Woodstock town supervisor Jeremy Wilber responded to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s prediction that this year’s property tax cap will be 0.73 percent, saying it will have dire consequences for local infrastructure. Enacted in 2012, the cap limits tax levy increases for municipalities and school districts to 2 percent or the growth of inflation, whichever is lower. Boards can bypass the cap with a supermajority vote, or 60 percent, which in the case of a five person town board, is three votes — the same three votes needed to pass a budget, in any case. But in many cases, such a strategy could have political consequences.
“Again it shows what a destructive piece of legislation the tax cap law is,” said Wilber, who stated his misgivings in a letter to state Sen. George Amedore and Assemblyman Kevin Cahill. “What I asked for in the letter is that they at least exempt repair to infrastructure from tax cap provisions, because otherwise we’re just going to live in an increasingly unsafe environment,” Wilber said, at the board’s July 21 meeting.
“We’re going to be sending our children to rundown parks. We’re going to be crossing unsafe bridges. All of our public facilities are just going to have this whole drabness descended upon them for want of a lousy coat of paint and a little maintenance.”
The state division of budget makes the final determination in August and allows for a growth factor, which in Woodstock’s case is about half the growth of the inflation rate, Wilber said.
If DiNapoli’s prediction comes true, Woodstock will be able to increase it’s tax levy by about $48,000. But, many point out, increases to mandated state expenses are not capped. Wilber estimated that mandatory contributions to the state retirement fund and medical insurance for town employees alone could eat up the $48,000. “It’s a destructive piece of legislation. It has to be amended,” he said.
Welcome weekend revelers. Now please be quiet!
That’s the message town leaders have for those who rent a home with friends and have an all-night blast, much to the consternation of neighbors. “They are, in many instances, people who come and party, and they make a lot of noise,” said Wilber, referring to people who use popular online services like airbnb.com to find a weekend getaway.
“They don’t even realize that they’re upsetting neighbors when they do this. When the police come by and gently remind them, they’re very often mortified. They’re not even aware they’ve done this.”
Homeowners have apparently discovered that Woodstock’s popularity as a summer destination means they can make a few hundred dollars a weekend or more by renting their property during the peak tourism months. What started out as a few dozen listings has exploded. On Wednesday, July 22, there were 530 rentals available in Woodstock.
But renters may think the lack of any homes within sight gives them license to blast music or set off fireworks at all hours of the night. They may not realize how sound travels across the landscape of Woodstock. “So the message is…We don’t want to step on commerce or on people’s private arrangements. But please, if you’re renting your places out — particularly if you’re going to be absent — please make clear to those who are renting that they must be quiet,” Wilber said. “There’s such a thing as a quiet celebration of nature. You don’t have to go out and blast U2 to show your appreciation of the hills and dells.”
Regular bed-and-breakfast establishments “must have fire regulations and have to be looked at and approved where airbnbs are not falling under some of these regulations and we have to look at that,” Councilwoman Cathy Magarelli said. The town’s building department is reaching out to the Association of Towns to see what they suggest for regulations of airbnb-type rentals.
“I sympathize,” Councilman Bill McKenna said. “My neighbor’s done the same thing. Every weekend it’s a different young crowd.”
A public service announcement posted on the town’s website woodstockny.org asks people to be courteous. “Did you find a place to stay through Airbnb or a similar service? Welcome to Woodstock. But, one request that we have is that you PLEASE not make noise,” the message says.
The posting further asks that guests join in the quiet celebration of nature Woodstock has to offer.
In its attempt to be good citizens, Airbnb has set ground rules for renters and even staffs a neighbor hotline to field complaints. Those with concerns can call 888-927-4459 toll free.
Rental rates raised
The Town Board unanimously approved raising rental fees at the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center to recoup rising costs and also make them more in line with the improved facilities once the renovated building is open for use.
The rate for town residents is $50 per hour for the entire building, $35 for the front portion including the stage or $25 per hour for the rear portion behind the stage. Full day rental is $250.
For nonresidents, rates are $100 per hour for the entire building, $70 for the front, $50 for the rear and $300 for full-day rental. This represents an increase of $15 per hour for residents and $30 per hour for nonresidents to rent the entire building.
Under the old rates, no delineation was made between the front and rear because the building wasn’t divided. The security deposit also increases from $50 to $100.
Town Hall rental is unchanged at $25 per hour for residents, $50 for nonresidents.
Nonprofit groups can obtain waivers from the Town Board on a case-by-case basis.
Representatives from Performing Arts of Woodstock complained that the rates have in some cases gone up 800 percent, while it would be impractical for the group to raise ticket prices by that much to make up the difference.
Wilber pointed out the group will benefit from a new stage, lights and sound system as well as a dressing room and more convenient parking. He said such improvements will allow for better performances and can lead to more ticket sales.
Wilber also agreed to sit down with the PAW and other Town Board members to work out a separate fee schedule for frequent users that would meet expenses and minimize financial burden.
Yankeetown Pond compromise gets NYC’s blessing
The board announced with little fanfare that the New York City Department of Environmental Protection finally signed off on the town’s compromise to limit hunting around Yankeetown Pond to big game and a spring turkey hunt.
In October, the board approved the new regulations 3-2, but it was ultimately up to the DEP, which owns the land as part of the Ashokan Reservoir watershed management. The Woodstock Environmental Commission recommended the compromise partly as a way to deal with deer overpopulation. Area residents had come to numerous meetings calling for a complete ban on hunting in the area, citing safety and noise concerns.
Hunting had not been a major issue until late 2013, when the town overlooked a DEP notice seeking comment on a plan to post the land as available for all hunting. Neighbors raised concerns when they noticed new signs and hunters coming to the area.