CRIMES. By the time this blog gets posted, the jurors may well be back with a verdict in the case of Travis Augustine. They started deliberating, as well as having lunch, at just after noon today. They may not need more than half a day to find that Augustine murdered his friend Martha Conners, killed her dog, and stole her property. The prosecution's case, as unfolded by District Attorney Terry Wilhelm in a former classroom of the St Patricks Academy in Catskill, now serving as Judge George Pulver Jr's temporary courtroom, was altogether circumstantial and, we reckon, altogether conclusive. Details may follow.
-----IT HAPPENED. The jurors returned at 3:20pm. The foreman delivered a verdict notice. Judge Pulver opened it and read the result: Guilty On All Counts. He then polled the jurors by number. Each voiced concurrence. At that point, two women in the audience--the defendant's mother and sister--erupted in a shrieking fit. They were not pacified by Public Defender Dominic J. Cornelius's promise that "it's not over." Then police officers arrived with shackles for the defendant. Augustine, who had been meek and expressionless throughout the trial, went into a rage. Seven officers were needed to subdue the 6 foot 4 inch convict.
Those events, at any rate, are based onhastily written notes taken from the observations of a first-hand witness: Catskill historian and seasoned journalist Richard Philp.
JOBS. GreeneLand’s rate of private sector unemployment in March, according to the State Labor Department, came to 9.1 per cent of the labor force. That is quite an increase over the March 2008 figure of 5.9%. It is higher (which is to say, worse) than the country-wide figure (8.5%, versus 5.1% in 3/08), the State-wide figure (7.8%, vs. 4.8%), and nearby counties (Ulster, 7.8% vs. 5.2%; Columbia, 8.0% vs. 4.9%). It’s not as bad as the unemployment rates (as high as 11.5%) in a dozen small counties that, like GreeneLand, are not part of major labor areas.
HUNGRY KIDS. Nearly half of the children who attend Catskill public schools qualify for the free lunch program. The qualifying population, reports Superintendent Kathleen Farrell, is up about 5 per cent from last year. Meanwhile, any other kid who forgets lunch money or lunch box gets fed.
HOMES. Sales of single-family homes in the Capital Region (including GreeneLand) during the first quarter of this year declined from the same period in 2008, according to the New York Association of Realtors, by almost a third. Average and median prices also declined, to the extent of about 9 per cent.
DEALS. The current real estate market is, ahem, abnormal. What’s normal is for prices to be up when interest rates on mortgages are down, and, conversely, for prices to drop when interest rates rise. Makes sense. But present interest rates are close to record lows, and prices are below their average in recent years (modestly here; dramatically, in the "liar loan" regions)..
Coinciding with this general condition is the special, or rather extra-special, tax break for first-time home buyers.
BANKS. Amid the housing slump, the shortage of jobs, and the economic recession, Greene County Bancorp, parent of the Bank of Greene County, has continued to flourish. In the course of the nine months ending March 31, according to a company release,, net income rose 58% to $3million. For the January 1-March 31 period the gain was $1.2million, or 69% more than for the same period in 2008. President Donald Gibson attributed the “strong earnings” chiefly to “net interest income,” but a one-time cash payment of $1.7million for the sale of its merchant credit card business did not hurt. Total assets of this parent of the Bank of Green County grew in the three-quarter period by 21 per cent, to $458.6 million. Deposits rose by 24 per cent to $395million. Yes, some loans did go sour, and more defaults are anticipated, but so are net gains. In the wake of its recent dividend announcement and then its earnings report, the company's share price has zoomed by around 35 per cent.
RATES. Central Hudson is applying to State regulators for permission to raise electricity and natural gas prices. According to reporter Melanie Lekiocevic (Daily Mail,3/17), approval would mean many millions of dollars of additional revenue to the company while costing the average household $93 more per year for electricity and $151 more for gas. Local officials are resisting.
LAWSUITS. John Velosa of Cairo is about to be sued for allegedly stealing timber from the property in Athens of Casey Biggs. According to Mr Biggs, the two of them talked about a deal whereby Mr Velosa would fell trees on the property, haul them away, sell them, then split the profits with Biggs. Biggs and his wife subsequently left town on business. When they returned, trees were gone and all efforts to contact Valosa were unavailing. Attorney Michael Smith is preparing the lawsuit.
MALADIES. Lyme Disease rates in GreeneLand have doubled in recent years, says reporter Billie Dunn (Daily Mail, 4/25) citing Columbia County Public Health Nurse Paul Phillippe. Columbia's incidence is the worst in northeastern New York, with GreeneLand coming in second, at the rate of 246 cases per 100,000 population. If we kill more deer, would we humans have fewer bites from those blood-sucking deer ticks?
DRINKS. NO B Y O B? A couple of GreeneLand restaurateurs were warned recently that, unless they already are licensed to sell wine and beer, they cannot legally allow diners to bring in their own beverages. That warning, citing Article 64B of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law, may have dire implications for places other than restaurants. To serve beer and wine at a gallery opening or a fund-raising event, it seems, one must obtain a Special Permit. Eligibility is fraught with restrictions. Lots of non-profit community groups may be hurt. And that in turn will hurt the people who ratted to the ABC. Meanwhile, Catskill proprietor Mary DiStefano says “MOD is using this as a springboard. We will make lemonade out of lemons, spiking it appropriately...when we obtain our beer and wine license. That is already in the works. It may have been some-one's intent to hurt us, but we will take this adversity and make better things out of it.”
DRINKS + EATS. The former Yanni’s II restaurant, hugging the Hudson at at the north end of Athens, now is The Dockside Grill, run by Steve Womack and a crew of 25. After selling his previous restaurant in Florida he was persuaded by his wife, Susan, to come to GreeneLand, her old stomping ground, instead of returning to his native California. Business since his March 3d opening, says Steve, has been ”much better than we expected.” Fully licensed and sporting live music, the place was full of happy people last Friday.
TONIGHT. Opening party for exhibition, titled “Nature is the Key,” of plein air pictures by Patti Ferrara, at the Agroforestry Resource Center’s gallery in Acra, 5-7pm.6229823.www.agroforestrycenter.org---->>>Coxsackie-Athens Rotary Club diiner and auction, Quarry Steakhouse, 6pm. Raffle too.
TOMORROW. Birder Larry Biegel introduces the activity of birding, from 9am at the Agroforestry Resource Center.
>>Catskill Village Clean Sweep, from 8am. Volunteers are invited to go to village hall, collect tools, gloves, trash bags, doughnuts, coffee and assignments--toi Main Street business district, west side business district, parks, cemetery, Maple Avenue, schools.
>> Thomas Cole National Historic Site's season-opening exhibition, "River Views of the Hudson River School" (paintings by Cole, Gifford, Cropsey...), compiled in keeping with the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's journey of discovery here. The show opens at noon in Catskill. At 1:30pm or thereabouts, the man who was primarily responsible for the resurgence of attention to the Hudson River School in the post-World War II years will give a talk. He is John R. Howatt, erstwhile chairman of American Art at the Metropolitan (NYC) Museum of Art. www.thomascole.org
>>Jazz + Jazz Talk at Athens Cultural Center, from 7pm, led by Grammy winners Brian Lynch (trumpet) and Boris Kozlov (bass). www.athensculturalcenter.org
>>"In the Blink of an Eye" headlines photographic art of Dmitri Belyi, shown at the upstairs BFA gallery in Ruby's Hotel in Freehold. Reception from 5pm.