At first glance there seems to be much ado about Olive’s elections this year. There are full slates from each party for the three main seats — town supervisor and two town board — up for the filling (Town Judge Ron Wright is running unopposed). Over the past year, several new issues have arisen, including the arrival of a long-awaited draft comprehensive plan for the town’s future. And there’s a growing amount of grumbling regarding the town’s response to the recent Irene flooding, which hit the hamlet of Boiceville and Watson Hollow Road in West Shokan particularly bad.
There appears to be much more to it this year than the battle lines over the annual Olive Day celebration, a Democratic fundraiser, and whether Leifeld and crew were working hard enough for their salaries, that held sway two years ago.
Longstanding town supervisor Bert Leifeld, a Democrat who’s been in town government for almost four decades now, is running for reelection against former councilwoman and news correspondent Cindy Johansen, a Republican; while incumbent councilpersons Henry Rank, a Democrat, and Peter Friedel, a Republican, will be facing Don Van Buren, a Republican, and Trenice Winne, a Democrat.
Behind the scenes, local letter writer Mitchell Langbert, a Brooklyn College professor and former Republican committee member who tried starting a Catskills chapter of the Tea Party last year, has been stirring the pot…by passing on information he’s been researching and by fueling his local blog on a regular basis.
Last summer, Langbert sounded an alarm on the comp planning process, which has been talked about since the early 1990s and was the focus of a number of community talking “charrette” sessions — a term used in architectural and design circles — last year at this time. His charges? That the work was being done secretly, according to a conspiratorial plan regarding the town’s future, and incorporating socialistic (and worse) Democratic (and United Nations) sustainability goals.
A lot of people came out to a public meeting on the planning process, and plan, assembled to date. Town officials pointed out that the process was public, and set for further hearings open to all. The crowd seemed mollified and the issue seemed to go away as quickly as it had arisen.
Until now, as it starts to raise its head again this election season.
In regards to the recent floods, Johansen sent a letter to Leifeld in early September that lines up the issue, at least as it splits candidates and is set to surface over the coming weeks.
“Many towns in the area trying to clean up from this horrible disaster have been providing dumpster/rolloffs for disposal of items destroyed by the flooding. It’s my understanding that reimbursement is available to the towns for picking up this debris,” she wrote. “Just not sure what Olive has in its plan — if there is one…In order to prevent further mold and issues with water, we are trying to get rid of as much of this debris (old carpeting, small amounts of sheet rock that is being bagged to prevent it from getting soggy in the rain, papers and files that were underwater, old chairs, etc.) as possible and are cleaning out and starting the drying process which will take the next several days.”
Johansen and others, including West Shokan resident and author Martha Frankel, raised these issues at recent meetings. And promise to keep doing so.
Finally, there’s the annual budget, which despite being pegged, at this interim juncture, as being an approximate 2.2% increase for the general fund (offset by a lower hike in highway funding), is being discussed by Friedel, Johansen and Langbert as still questionable. The problems?
“What has been happening to the current base? My sense from petitioning last year is that there has been population loss. Is the tax base shrinking? Does anyone keep track of population in the town from year to year?” Langbert has asked in a missive making its way around the Republican challengers. “Why the increase in election costs from 17K anticipated in 2010 to 43K in 2012? What is behind the sharp cut in building appropriations? It was anticipated $211,753 for 2011 but actual was $66,000. Why a 5% increase in the police budget? A lot of people say that we don’t need a department. Why the sharp reduction in parks budget from 189,468 to 37,299?”
More sharply, Friedel, along with Langbert, has started raising questions about the nature of the town’s retirement plans, wondering whether they can be shifted.
“Unless the townspeople wish to live their lives as thralls to the pension needs of the town employees, there should be consideration of alternatives to the current retirement plan design,” is how Langbert has put it. “I assume the (town’s) newfound moderation has to do with the Cuomo cap…”