Wednesday, November 10, 2010

News That Matters - Wednesday, November 10, 2010

News That Matters

News That Matters
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"When ideology prevents rational discussion of a really pretty mundane topic, trash, there is no perspective. Everything is suspect, which paralyzes us." - Fountain Hills, AZ Councilwoman Ginny Dickey

Good Wednesday Morning!

A (Temporary) Victory on Sales Taxes

A special Thanks! goes out to everyone who contacted the County Legislature on Monday regarding the extension of the extra sales tax we pay here in Putnam County. Your efforts pulled the matter from the agenda from Monday to be reschedule for 2011 when it should be dealt with. Your work proves that a little democracy can go a long way. Mazel Tov!
What I learned from the experience is that our legislators were largely confused about this issue. For example, two Legislators thought this vote was for an extension for this budget year when it was really for the 2012 budget. Another insisted that draconian cuts would have to be made or a significant increase in property taxes take its place if the bill were not passed - this year. Several never bothered to respond to emails.

In County Executive Bondi's budget address he said, [Emphasis mine.]

"We have slightly decreased from 2010 our sales tax revenue estimate, the chief revenue source in our County Budget, budgeting $47.45 million, for 2011. We are slightly behind (less than 2%) our sales tax revenue estimates in 2010, and right now we believe that this is a prudent estimate for 2011, given the economy and short term future forecasts. It is our duty to point out again that the sales tax authorization increase in the County share to 4% expires November 30, 2011. If the State Legislature fails to reauthorize this next year, the County share will fall to 3%. This will result in the loss of over $ 11 million to Putnam County and require double digit property tax increases, significant loss of services, or a combination of both. We hereby call upon State Senator Vincent Leibell, Assemblywoman Sandra Galef, and Assemblyman Greg Ball to enact a sales tax extension this year in 2010. This Legislation is too important to leave unaddressed until 2011. The next County Executive will have to submit a 2012 County Budget containing devastating service cuts and/or a massive property tax increase without this Legislation. Both he/she and the Putnam County Legislature need to know this year what the future sales tax rate will be in order to make intelligent decisions about the County Budget in a timely manner."

A "double-digit" property tax increase could amount to $20 a month per property to maintain the full integrity of county services.

Moreover, we see Mr. Bondi encouraging that this be handled this year thinking it too important to wait until next in its proper time. But why? The "Why" are the politics of Albany.

Another legislator said that it was the lack of a commercial base that required the extension and that if places like Patterson Crossing would open that we'd not be in this fix. But I contest that assertion saying only, that in the case of Patterson Crossing where more than 3 million dollars worth of sales taxes are promised, the number requires that every dime be *new* dollars spent in the county and not a shifting of sales from say, the Home Depot to the Lowes. Until some brainiac big-wig economist says otherwise, I'm not buying the numbers from Patterson Crossing and I'd be very cautious regarding similar promises about Union Place.

Burning Questions About Burnwell

While we're talking about double-digit increases, I get this letter last Friday or Saturday (November 4th or 5th) from Burnwell Propane dated September 30 with a new rate/fee schedule dated October 1. Bob Bondi has finally met his match in mucking up dates, making it too late for you to ever respond in time.
The Fee Schedule is outlined on a double-sided sheet and each entry uses the words, "may be" and "up to" so often that with each item you are never sure whether it will apply to you and if it does, how much so.

Honestly, not being a lawyer I have no idea if any of that is legal in the sense that as customers we were notified more than a full month after the new rates took effect and that we also do not know exactly how much we may be responsible for.

Before you write and say, "go find someone else", I began to look around a bit last year and called Burnwell and asked them to pump the propane out of the tank and that I'd sell it back to them at the then current price of delivered propane. "No!" The woman said, we buy it back at the price you paid for delivery when it was delivered minus the delivery charge. Alright. It's my gas but it's in their tank and so we're stuck on that point. And I couldn't find another company who would pump that gas out and put it into a new tank.

But the new rate sheet has this:

Tank Removal Fee and Pump Out Fee - will be assessed when tank is removed....request to discontinue service for other reasons - Fee is $150.00 per removal of an above ground tank... If the tank contains gas the fee to pump out this gas may be up to $1.00 per gallon."

So, as the expression goes, they've got you by short hairs.

Last year when I was concerned about the amount of propane I seemed to be using I called Burnwell to run a series of tests for leaks. Several hundred dollars later they found nothing to report - the lines were tight. But interestingly, when the floor furnace was replaced last month the installer found a leak in the lines, one that had been there for years upon years and that the Burnwell technician should most certainly have found. In his words, "It's a good thing you never turned this thing [the floor furnace] on!" I've saved the broken piece that was pulled from the lines and now all I need is a good lawyer. The way I figure it they owe me money - and possibly even my life.

If anyone out there knows a way to get around these outrageous fees and find a more responsible supplier please let me know. As it is now, the fee schedule Burnwell has set up means that even if my tank were full I'd still loose money selling them back the gas and removing the tank - a lot of money. There's something inherently unfair about that and it should be illegal.

It's become clear over the years that Burnwell has been ripping me off and there's no way it's just me. If they're your company, write and tell me so we can exchange stories and perhaps begin a class action suit against these people.

Fahnestock State Park - Off Sunken Mine Road

News Notes:

So, this 5-year old boy decides he wants to dress up like a girl for Halloween and the entire globe has to get in on it. Was there something in that story I missed? I thought the whole point of dressing up for Halloween was *dressing up*.

The city of Fountain Hills, AZ had a mish-mash of garbage collection going on within the municipal lines and decided to go with a single trash hauler and at the same time to institute a curbside recycling plan, their first. In the end, everyone would save a little money and garbage collection in that fair city would be organized.
But there was a problem: Fountain Hills is home to two Tea Party groups and they both got in on the fight insisting that a unified garbage pickup plan and the recycling program were socialist and so launched a campaign against the city. They lost and sanity prevailed.

Councilwoman Ginny Dickey said, "It seems counterintuitive, but in order for this proposal to pass, I believe I had to downplay the benefits of recycling," she said. "When ideology prevents rational discussion of a really pretty mundane topic, trash, there is no perspective. Everything is suspect, which paralyzes us."

From the Town of Kent CAC:

Every winter the Town of Kent enjoys at least a few days of weather that is terrific for a cross-country ski outing. And Kent's terrain is such that quite a few local hiking trails work well for the sport. For some time, the CAC has considered how to take advantage of this by sponsoring at least one cross-country ski outing each year. The problem, of course, is scheduling. Conditions here change so quickly and unpredictably that choosing a date in advance almost never pans out.

Since we can't schedule an outing in advance, the CAC would like to see if people are interested getting together on short notice when great cross-country ski conditions are suddenly upon us — a sort of "Carpe Ski-em." (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) If there's sufficient interest, we'll keep our eyes on conditions and try to organize at least one outing this winter.

If you're interested, please let me know. Just reply to this e-mail telling me your name and phone number. I'll add you to the list of people to call. When the time comes, we'll give everyone on the list a call - probably about a day ahead of time - and head out to the trail!

I hope you'll join us!

P.S. If you have a favorite local cross-country trail you'd like to suggest we use, we'd love to hear about it. The ideal trail for our purposes is one that can be done in about two or three hours and is neither boring nor scary. We'd like to accommodate skiers of various skill levels and want everyone to have a great time.

Contact David Ehnebuske at

Just so you know:

And now, The News:

New bottle deposit law proved a success

It's been a year since the long-debated and much-compromised slightly bigger better bottle bill took effect in New York. Contrary to the beverage industry's predictions, the sky hasn't fallen. In fact, adding a 5-cent deposit to the estimated 2.5 billion water bottles sold statewide each year has helped address the state's two biggest problems — jobs and cash.

Unclaimed deposits have generated $120 million in new state revenue, according to Laura Haight, senior environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group, which marked the first anniversary of the expanded bottle bill law. New jobs have been created at the 142 redemption centers that have sprung up around the state since 2009 in order to process the bottle returns, Haight said.

Additionally, there are fewer water bottles littering the roadways, since Oct. 31, 2009, when the law went into effect. Andy Stewart, executive director of Keep Rockland Beautiful, which runs a roadside cleanup each spring with upward of 5,000 volunteers at more than 300 sites throughout the county, said he has noticed a change.

Read More

Science says methane in PA water is from drilling, not natural causes

by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica

In its Sunday, Nov. 6, business feature, The New York Times wrote about concerns some residents across the country have about pollution in their water supplies from natural gas drilling. The paper traveled to northwestern Pennsylvania, where more than a dozen residents’ water has been fouled by the drilling process and the state is arranging to replace their drinking-water supply.

ProPublica has been reporting on the water concerns there, in the town of Dimock, since late 2008.

At the end of its article, the Times used a quote that raised questions about whether gas drilling is responsible for the contamination, or whether the problem has been made up or overhyped.

The quote came from Martha Locey, a 78-year-old resident of the nearby town of Montrose, Pa., who said she’s had methane in the water of her family farm for decades — long before the drilling started.
“My father dug our well in 1945, and we knew it had lots of iron in it, and we thought it had something else, but we weren’t sure, because it had lots of bubbles in it,” Mrs. Locey said. “So my nephew took it to school in the ’60s, and the science teacher lit it, and it burned, so he said, ‘It’s methane.’”
Mrs. Locey may be right. It’s quite likely that her nephew did in fact light his water on fire almost 50 years ago — and that the water contained gas. It just wasn’t the same type of gas that is causing problems in Dimock.

Read More

Hydraulic Fracturing Expert Warns of What Lies Below

by Wes Skillings for the Rocket-Courier

If gas wells were required by law to be as safe from accidents as bridges and commercial airplanes, says Cornell University professor and expert in the field of hydraulic fracturing, Dr. Tony Ingraffea, he, for one, would consider the risks acceptable.

As it now stands, Dr. Ingraffea informed local residents at a town meeting in Browntown recently, the industry claims a success rate of 98.5 percent, which is essentially at least one accident waiting to happen for about every 150 wells drilled. That, he told interested residents at an informational meeting on natural gas drilling at the Calvary Chapel Church, “is totally unacceptable from an engineering standpoint.”

“The industry does not yet have a standard operating procedure for developing unconventional gas wells on the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania,” said Dr. Ingraffea, who has worked on projects and research for the industry on fracture mechanics and is Co-Editor-in-Chief of Engineering Fracture Mechanics. “They’re still experimenting as they are going along.”

Read More

Some judges chastise banks over foreclosure paperwork

By Ariana Eunjung Cha

EAST PATCHOGUE, N.Y. - A year ago, Long Island Judge Jeffrey Spinner concluded that a mortgage company's paperwork in a foreclosure case was so flawed and its behavior in negotiations with the borrower so "repugnant" that he erased the family's $292,500 debt and gave the house back for free.

The judgment in favor of the homeowner, Diane Yano-Horoski, which is being appealed, has alarmed the nation's biggest lenders, who say it could establish a dramatic new legal precedent and roil the nation's foreclosure system.

It is not the only case that has big banks worried. Spinner and some of colleagues in the New York City area estimate they are dismissing 20 to 50 percent of foreclosure cases on the basis of sloppy or fraudulent paperwork filed by lenders.

Their decisions illustrate the central role lower court judges will have in resolving the country's foreclosure debacle. The mess came to light after lawsuits and media reports showed lenders were routinely filing shoddy or fraudulent papers to seize the homes of borrowers who had missed payments.

Read More

Acorn glut signals Lyme risks

Richard S. Ostfeld and Charles D. Canham for the Poughkeepsie Journal

This fall, some of you might have noticed it's difficult to walk on sidewalks or hilly trails near oak trees. The acorns underfoot — nature's ball bearings — are so numerous that even sturdy shoes are no match. In our research sites at the Cary Institute and throughout the Hudson Valley, we are seeing acorn production of unprecedented proportions.

Oak trees, like many hardwoods, tend to drop few or no seeds in most years. Then episodically, they produce a bumper crop of acorns, known as a "mast year."

Each tree species has its own rhythm, so it's rare to see multiple species masting together. This year, though, our four most common oak species — red oak, black oak, white oak and chestnut oak —are all producing acorns at the same time. In the 20 years we've been monitoring tree seed production, this is the first time we've seen such an acorn glut.

Read More

Dover Plains church gets historic designations

Jackie DiMarzo • For the Poughkeepsie Journal • November 9, 2010

DOVER PLAINS — The congregation of Second Baptist Church has plenty to celebrate, as it was recently named to the New York State Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places. The church is at 29 Mill St.

Church Treasurer Donna Reimer started applying for historic status after members agreed the church had a good chance of being named to the state registry.

"There was a discussion ... that we seem to fit the profile to be a landmark. We didn't know what the actual requirements were, but we just said, 'Well, let's try,' " Reimer said. "We thought we had a pretty good chance because it's old and everything's original."

They were right. In a state press release, the Second Baptist Church of Dover was described as the oldest religious building in the Dover Plains hamlet and an outstanding example of early 19th century Protestant meeting-house design.

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New trailhead along O&W Rail Trail

WOODRIDGE – A new trailhead is open on the O&W Rail Trail at River Road and Avon Lodge Road near the Neversink River just outside the Village of Woodridge. The trail ends at the gazebo in downtown Woodridge.

With a grant from Sullivan Renaissance, Town of Fallsburg crews cleared and graded the trailhead, laid down wood chips and created a picnic area. Woodridge Renaissance volunteers handled the installation of a new trailhead sign and planter.

The improvement was part of an inter-municipal effort along the O&W Rail Trail that brought together four community groups and the Town of Fallsburg. In addition to the trailhead, work included landscaping at the visitors center in Mountaindale by volunteers from the Mountaindale Action Committee and Sullivan Striders.

Read More

How Bankers Spy on You

Big Banker is watching you—more closely than ever.

With lenders still skittish about making new loans, credit bureaus and others are hawking services that help banks probe deeply into your financial closet. The new offerings include ways to look at your rent and utility payments, figure out your income, gauge your home's value and even rate your banking habits based on details like whether your direct deposits have stopped.

All of this could influence your financial freedom—not to mention the number of junk-mail solicitations you receive.

Ken Lin, CEO of Credit Karma, a credit-score information website, knew he had a good credit score. But when he recently applied for a new credit card, he was rejected: The lender had flagged him as a higher credit risk because the value of his California home had declined and his mortgage principal wasn't declining—giving away that he has an interest-only mortgage.

"It's a lot more than just your credit score today," he says.

Read More

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