Assemblyman Kevin Cahill does not seem of a mind to renew “the Cahill Sales-Tax Crisis” this year. But, more than a few people in that six-story glass building at Fair and Main in Kingston seem to be wondering what he’ll be asking for this time around.
Last month, the Ulster County Legislature unanimously approved and the county executive signed a resolution that formally requested the state legislature to extend the county’s 1 percent sales tax add-on for another two years, beginning next January. At stake is about $25 million in yearly revenue without which county officials say they would have to make some serious reductions in service and/or sharp increases in the property tax.
Two years ago, Cahill demanded the county take over ever-increasing Safety Net (welfare) charges to the towns and the city and the cost of administering local election expenses in exchange for his allowing the bill authorizing the 1 percent add-on to reach the Assembly floor for a vote. After numerous increasingly vituperative exchanges reported in the media and one very testy face-off at the County Office Building, Cahill got what he wanted.
The county administration blamed Cahill for a loss of between $3.8 million and $5.4 million in sales-tax revenues, even as overall collections in 2014 compared to the previous year remained flat. Whatever the real number, there were no reductions in services and no increases in property taxes.
The “Cahill takeovers,” as they could be described, will cost county coffers about $6 million a year, going forward, according to officials. It’s a good deal for local government, which will be relieved of a considerable financial burden. And all things considered, it’s not such a terrible deal for the county government. Where else could they retain $25 million in easy revenue in exchange for a $6 million payout?
The question remains, what does Cahill want now? I asked him that directly, but in typical fashion he would only respond enigmatically, “I haven’t decided yet.” As they say, there’s many a truth in jest. Was he kidding? Cahill loves intrigue, especially when he can create it.
I can report that he will not be demanding a parking space in the County Office Building lot between County Executive Mike Hein and his chief of staff, Adele Reiter (nothing gets between Hein and Reiter). Neither will he ask for a front-row seat when the veterans’ memorial in front of the glass house is dedicated on May 24, nor at the ribbon-cutting for the SUNY Ulster adjunct at the former Sophie Finn School scheduled for mid-October.
But things have changed in Albany since Cahill last muscled Hein, as both sides are acutely aware. Former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, Cahill’s close ally, went down in flames in January, and nobody is sure how the chips will fall — or be distributed — under new Speaker Carl Heastie. That Heastie appointed him to a meaningless committee on climate study is encouraging. At least the speaker knows he’s still alive.
The bottom line is that Cahill may not be able to stroll into the speaker’s office, exchange a few pleasantries and bargain a ticket on what legislators call “district issues.” As a senior member of “the people’s house,” Cahill still has considerable clout and connections. To what extent remains to be seen.
Rails and trails?
It might be just election-year pressure, but it appears that rail and trail advocates in the county legislature could be getting together in the same room, and soon. Republican Minority Leader Ken Ronk has sponsored county legislation that will abolish the special rail advisory committee established by legislature Chairman John Parete and replace it with a committee with legislators from both sides. The existing rail committee under Chairman Dave Donaldson has been so pro-rail as to almost be considered extremist.
Ronk comes from a different direction. “I’m not picking sides,” he said, “but if I were, I think the trail people are being more reasonable.”
The proposed committee will include three Democrats (Tracy Bartels, Rich Parete and Donaldson) and two Republicans (Ronk and Mary Beth Maio). The committee will elect its own chairman.
Chairman Parete, who has long called for peace between Catskill rail and trail advocates, views Ronk’s proposal with some ambiguity. “I don’t have a problem with the legislature setting up committees and naming chairmen [previously the sole prerogative of legislature chairmen] but I think a so-called rail corridor committee should have more members from the corridor on it.” Parete and Ronk, to whom Parete owes his chairmanship (twice), will talk.
Meanwhile, legislators are awaiting word from the county attorney on a court-ordered report of Catskill Mountain Railroad financials, as discussed in executive session on Feb. 17. One of the issues is what constitutes railroad net receipts. Under its lease with the county, the railroad pays a 5 percent fee, based on net, which can be offset by capital expenses. In recent years, the railroad folks claim to have invested upwards of a million dollars in track, bridge and equipment repair, citing “professional volunteer labor” for much of the expense. County lawyers view volunteer labor as a contradiction in terms, a position totally unacceptable for the all-volunteer railroad operators.
State legislature shorts
State Sen. George Amedore has appointed John Quigley as his Ulster County district representative, with an office on Crown Street in Kingston. Quigley, son of Ulster Town Supervisor Jim Quigley, was a Republican candidate for county legislature from Kingston’s District 6 last time, losing handily to incumbent Democrat Donaldson.
Meanwhile, Amedore has introduced some populist legislation that is unfortunately exceedingly unpopular where it really counts. Amedore, a former three-term assemblyman, wants term limits imposed on the state legislature. Six two-year terms, beginning in 2017, sounds about right he says. Twelve years? That’s some term. Maybe the number has something to do with legislators being vested in a generous pension system after 10 years.
The bill, which has a minority-party Assembly sponsor, is not going anywhere. Good for talking points on the campaign trail, though.
Incumbent state legislators enjoyed a re-election rate of 97 percent last year, according to the Associated Press, and that included the few unfortunates who got knocked off after their freshmen years.
Here and there
It is literally disgusting that the Wallkill River as it flows through New Paltz has been judged one of the most polluted waterways in the region, if not the state. New Paltz is one of the more environmentally active communities around. A sewer flows through it? Village Mayor Jason West says the situation might take “generations” to remediate. Environmentalists will gather next month for a general hand-wringing.
The Ulster legislature’s honoring of a Wallkill volunteer fire company on its centenary was a special occasion for Pine Bush Legislator Craig Lopez. “They saved my life,” the two-term Republican told fellow legislators at ceremonies last month. Lopez, 39, said he was just 17 when he smashed his car into a tree and was paralyzed from the waist down. Wallkill vols pulled him from the wreck.
Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum may not be getting LPG cars, but left the legislature with some memorable quotes.
First, he praised the large contingent of proud Wallkill firefighters in dress blue uniforms. “Without volunteers we’d be sort of screwed here in Ulster County,” he said. Quotes like that should be chiseled into the Shawangunk cliffs or on the door of the county exec’s office.