On Monday evening, June 25, the Hurley Town Board voted 3-1, not to participate any further in an ongoing application process for the creation of Route 28 Scenic Byway through the state Department of Transportation. Town Supervisor Gary Bellows said on Tuesday that he abstained from voting because there was more information he wanted on the proposal, from his town’s planning board and zoning board of appeals, as well as Hurley’s legal representatives.
“What came out is that the council people here had issues regarding home rule,” Bellows explained, noting fears that any agreement with other towns could see a majority of those towns going in a direction that Hurley might not want to go. “We were still not convinced.”
Bellows added that he appreciated the amount of time Hurley’s representative to the Central Catskills Collaborative (which has coordinated the Byway effort to date), Melinda McKnight, put into “the tireless job of going to all those meetings over all those years,” and would have liked to have waited longer for the town to make a decision on Byway participation. He added that he hoped the effort could continue for other participating towns, despite word from the head of the state’s program, Nancy Fitzgerald, that applications for byway designations tend to be “all or nothing” regarding municipal participation.
“We’re at the tail end of this thing so maybe they can go on without our two or so miles,” Bellows said. “All we have in there is from Route 375 to the lake, and only one side of the road at that given the fact that the city controls the other side with its reservoir property there.”
McKnight vented her feelings on Facebook.
“I spent countless hours researching, writing, photographing, inventorying the Town’s plentiful resources, traveled hundreds of miles to meetings over the course of three years time — to Arkville, Fleischmanns, Margaretville, Phoenicia, and Pine Hill. The Town Board never asked to meet with me about their concerns or to work together for the benefit of the town…Instead of cooperation, humility, unity, honesty and integrity the Town Board chose the opposite.”
Calls to Scenic Byway facilitator Peter Manning and members of the Collaborative this week went unanswered as of press time, as everyone involved struggled to figure out how to move forward with their 200 page-plus application…still needing approvals from two remaining Ulster County towns, Olive and Shandaken, before completion of any sort.
Hurley v. NYC
As for other Hurley matters this week, Bellows said that he and his town board are awaiting word from New York City attorneys on a proposed agreement for tax assessment valuation of the Ashokan Reservoir, which Hurley has long placed in the $150 to $200 million range, while New York has countered with a valuation under $50 million.
“We exchanged numbers at a pre-trial conference back in May. They’re looking at the numbers now to get back to us,” Bellows said of his attempt to set up a deal with New York similar to what the neighboring town of Olive reached in recent years, stopping its endless battles with the city over valuation for the coming decade, at least, through the use of committed terms for assessment increases for several years.
“My sense is that it costs our town $300,000 every time DEP takes us to court, no matter that they’ve lost their case the last two times,” Bellows said. “Combined with the 2 percent tax cap, it seems built to break the back of our taxpayers. We don’t want to have to go out and bond to fight their tax grievances in the future.”
Bellows said he felt confident about Hurley’s chances in their current lawsuit, based on both the advice of their Albany attorneys and the assessment specialist they hired, who handles such large taxable items as the Hoover Dam among his projects and clients.
“I feel our assessment numbers are dead on,” the supervisor added. “Hey, they just built a new Yankee Stadium for $1 billion and are saying they can replace this reservoir for under $100 million? We’re hopeful…”
Bellows further noted that whatever the outcome, it will affect all taxpayers in the County and Onteora School District, via their own valuations and assessment equations. Although he added that to date, neither larger entity has chipped any for the town’s legal battle.