Jim Sofranko, the Town of Olive’s supervisor-elect, is at home when we speak about his thoughts for the new job. He’s just hosted 18 for Thanksgiving and is a day shy of his birthday.
“The day after Election Day I started two months of Grand Jury duty two days a week,” he said. “I’m segueing out of my electrical business, with my co-worker taking over.”
Sofranko, who’s been an Olive town board member for the past six years, feels he’ll be coming into office with a strong board consensus. Right now, he’s got a 3-1 Democratic majority, including himself. That could grow to 4-1, depending on who he appoints to fill his old position…a decision he’s “not about to reveal” anytime before he has to on January 2, the town’s official reorganization day.
The supervisor-elect started talking about his town’s future by mentioning its past, or at least the elements of history and memory that came up at a recent Olive Free Library talk by artist Kate McGloughlin, with help from friends, on the town’s changes over time, and the many ways in which its geography has determined its present. He raises the tensions that many see not only in Olive, but elsewhere throughout the Catskills and Hudson Valley: between old-timers and weekenders, and with New York City over the Ashokan Reservoir.
Sofranko wants to put a committee together to look at how Olive utilizes technology to reach its residents; he’s listened to those who say they wish they knew more of what’s happening, and lament the loss of their own newspaper, the Olive Press (which for the sake of transparency, I admit having edited) a decade ago. He says that he’s been thinking about some sort of online town news source for public notifications and events…and more than just a Facebook presence.
He also said he’s going to seek another committee to evaluate Olive’s zoning laws, which he said are now nearly half a century old.
“Our code’s so old that it doesn’t include any recognition of B&Bs, let alone short term rentals,” Sofranko said. “When I was on the campaign trail I heard several mentions, from differing parts of town, about there being a wish that we could allow dwellings smaller than the current 600 foot minimum, not for short term but affordable rentals… It’s hard for someone who grew up here to find a job, and then to also find a place to live so they can stay here. I don’t want us to end up like a Vail or Aspen, where the people who work in town have to live 40 miles away.”
Continuing, the supervisor-elect noted his resolve to continue getting broadband coverage throughout Olive, including a portion of the Samsonville area where there’s no cell service yet, as well. He talked about parents driving their kids to the parking lot at the library to use its WiFi. “It’s key to education as well as entertainment,” he said, noting his work over the years with Spectrum to help with cable and broadband access throughout town.
New York Rising, the state’s post-Irene flood clean-up and prevention program, after a large upgrading of town offices, including solar panel installations, has one last phase to go — flood mitigation in West Shokan.
To better tie-in the Shokan Plaza area to the new rail trail, funding is being sought to extend a sidewalk.
Much is riding on the building of a new wastewater treatment plant for Shokan over the coming five years, the better “to open up business in the 28 corridor,” according to Sofranko.
He talked about attempts that have been made to have the speed limit lowered along Route 28, including concerns about new traffic for those utilizing the rail trail, and the state Department of Transportation’s response that the accident numbers just aren’t high enough for such changes yet, or a traffic light.
When questions about the town’s sense of unity were raised, the supervisor-elect brought up continuing controversy from some in town who still want the flooding problems in Boiceville solved by the building of a berm, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and New York City Department of Environmental Protection have said isn’t feasible.
“Lots of people still remember those days when you could put an excavator in the stream and move the water on downstream,” Sofranko said. He noted how far we’ve moved from such concepts, both in terms of what’s effective and issues involving liability.
He continued to address Boiceville, noting recent studies that looked into the reoccurrence of flooding in what has been the town’s main commercial district for the past half century. And pointed out how rising flood insurance costs have shifted the viability of a number of key business properties, leading the town to find flood buyout possibilities from the DEP, with Catskill Watershed Corporation help, to give those who couldn’t find private buyers “an option.”
“Our worry was that some of these properties would become zombie properties,” Sofranko added.
Parks and pools
Economic development thoughts for the town, he went on to note, include the moving of the Boiceville Fire Department to higher ground, with probable help from the CWC, and further feasibility studies that will include buyout and moving grants for possibly shifting the town’s commercial center towards Shokan, its new rail trail access point, and its coming wastewater treatment plant.
“I believe the action will be in Shokan,” he said. “Fruition Chocolate expanded there, based on the rail trail and treatment plant, and I’ve heard that Sheldon Hill Forestry Products has been purchased and will become a light manufacturing business.”
Sofranko added how important the town’s parks and pool, the latter in West Shokan’s Davis Park (and the recipient of a recoating this past year), were proving to also be draws for families moving to town. Which in turn spurs business and further economic development.
“I think we’ll name a new facilities committee to keep an eye on our parks,” he said. “We’re also working with the Olive Conservation Advisory Council to offer residents renewable energy sources, although there’ll always be a means for residents to opt out of such things should they want.”
Finally, hitting Olive’s unique issues — involving the watershed’s assessments and taxation fairness issues those have engendered over the years (i.e. the “Large Parcel” tax hit of a decade ago), the supervisor-elect spoke of working “with counsel” regarding a new assessment and “long term deal” with NYC and the state’s Office of Real Property Services (ORPS) that would balance rising property values and the DEP’s plans to spend $750 million on infrastructure upgrades at and around its reservoirs.
“We check all assessments in town,” Sofranko noted. “It’s a challenge to maintain our reputation as ‘low tax Olive.”
He paused. There was snow to shovel.
We asked what sort of work schedule the new supervisor was planning to keep.
“I hope to be there most of the time and available all of the time,” Jim Sofranko answered, adding that he still had several weeks to work out the details.