The Shandaken town board voted on November 8 to accept a town budget with the tax increase reduced from the preliminary figure of 7.4 percent to a final hike of 5.45 percent, still higher than the state’s two percent tax cap. Supervisor Rob Stanley announced that an agreement is expected to be in place soon that will bring a health clinic to the town-owned building opposite the Phoenicia post office in spring 2018, while Verizon has been inquiring about erecting a mini cell tower in or near the hamlet, to bring cell service at last to Phoenicia.
At the budget hearing preceding the November 8 town board meeting, no public comment was offered. However, Stanley asked board member Peter DiSclafani to explain why he had cast the lone dissenting vote on October 16, when the board passed a local law allowing a budget that exceeds the tax cap. DiSclafani questioned the second year of substantial budget increase in a row, while Stanley cited needs such as the delay in reimbursement from FEMA for flood-related bridge work, the increase in the state’s minimum wage, and the continually rising health care and retirement expenses.
On the plus side, reductions to the preliminary budget included a renegotiation of the shared services agreement with Ulster County, which depends on the town to plow some county roads — Phoenicia’s Main Street and the road to Belleayre Ski Center. The county has allotted Shandaken an extra $10,000 over the previous agreement. In addition, the county sales tax will net the town $20,000 more than the original tax projection.
“We’re keeping our pencils sharp, continuing to work on the budget,” said Stanley. “Someone made it seem like we aren’t doing our due diligence, but we’re constantly looking for ways to save money.” He cited highway superintendent Eric Hofmeister’s recent purchase of a nearly new Army surplus truck at a steep discount.
DiSclafani ended up casting his vote in favor of the 2018 budget, making the approval unanimous.
New health care facility?
Local health care providers are forming a medical group which has expressed interest in leasing the building on Ava Maria Drive in Phoenicia, which previously served as the temporary home of the Phoenicia Library and before that housed a series of medical clinics for many years. Negotiations over the lease are progressing, and an agreement is expected to be available for the town board’s vote in December, with a projected opening date in the spring. The board unanimously approved awarding a contract for repair of the building’s basement entrance and the wheelchair ramp, using $7580 from the Good Neighbor Fund. The basement repair was authorized by the board this past spring, but the contractor chosen was not able to perform the work.
Cell tower discussions
Verizon has contacted the Phoenicia Library and the United Methodist Church to inquire about the possibility of mounting a mini cell tower on top of a building in the hamlet. The water tower just northwest of Main Street is also under consideration, as is the possibility of a higher cell tower near Phoenicia. At this point, Verizon service in the hamlet is available but spotty, limited to structures such as the library and some businesses, which have acquired boosters. AT&T service can be found farther up Route 28, issuing from the tower at Glenbrook Park, but is missing in Phoenicia. Stanley said AT&T would probably not be added to mini towers but the company might be induced to add their service to a standard size tower, if Verizon makes that choice. The town’s telecommunications law will have to be studied before any agreements are made.