Friday, May 27, 2011

Greene Features

JUST INSTALLED in downtown Catskill: Mike Tigerson. Motorcycle Meowsma, Catadozer, Chinese Good Luck Cat, Olanacat, Mad Catter, Boo Boo Kitty, and 42 other fiberglass felines.  This year’s Cat ‘n Around figures are just as imaginative, as startling, as exciting as ever.  Arriving at a time when all too many Main Street stores are empty, supply they supply a timely morale booster.   Meanwhile, downtown Cairo is acquiring a fresh bounty of bears, while Rip van Winkle figures re-appear (newly configured) in Hunter,  and the streets of Athens are bedecked with lighthouse-shaped birdhouses. 

FEATURED at the top of the Washington Post’s Lifestyle section of May 19: a long illustrated article titled “The Impulsive Traveler: Following in the footsteps of the Hudson River School in Catskill, N.Y.” 
   I’d come to Catskill, N.Y., a town about two hours north of Manhattan, to retrace the steps of the Hudson River School, the 19th-century movement of landscape artists who walked the mountains of this verdant slice of the Northeast in search of inspiration.
   The people at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, a.k.a. Cedar Grove, the movement founder’s historic residence, have made the reasonable assumption that visitors would enjoy exploring the same places the artists did. So they’ve put together a guide to eight sites (more to come later this year), creating the Hudson River School Art Trail. Armed with that, and not a whole lot else, I found myself on a bright May day wandering the wilderness and channeling my inner artiste.
    The first two stops on the trail, Cole’s Cedar Grove and Olana, the elaborate Persian-style mansion of painter and Cole student Frederic Church, was the most leisurely part of my day. I strolled their grounds, taking in the views perfumed with the heavy scent of lilacs. But with six more stops to go, I couldn’t dally too long.

 [Queries for County Tourism promoters:  Is Cole House in your mind as a tourist attraction?  Do you do enough to spread the word about Cedar Grove and the Art Trail to visitors and prospective visitors?] 

FEATURED in the Real Estate section of Thursday’s New York Times, with a big picture and an interview: a two-bedroom house in Palenville, whose Manhattan-based owners  fell in love with the place, already had a place they love, bought this one, fixed it up, then gave it a lavish buildup on web site, as a vacation rental.   “Feast on the majestic mountain and waterfall views, the inspiration for the famed Hudson River School of Painters.” $400 per night in season, or $2600 per week, or $9800 per month.  Right.
FEATURED at the top of the Wall Street Journal’s Arts & Entertainment section on May 17, in an illustrated article hailing the opening of his first solo show in America: artist Vahap Avsar, who is a part-time GreeneLander.
FEATURED on the Crain’s NY Small Business site, May 18th, a story titled “Lexy Funk’s Take on the Night Shift.”  It’s about how, after coming home, feeding the kids, reading them a story, and putting them to bed, this mogul uses the 9 pm and midnight period to work on her $20 million business.  Ms Funk is a part-time GreeneLander. And is training for a triathlon.  And is about to be featured in Inc. magazine. And is married to Mr Avsar (who does help with the kids).
OFFERED for just $1.1 million:  The whole site of the former St Patricks Academy on Woodland Avenue in Catskill.  After being closed in 2008, it was used for a year as a temporary county courthouse.  It’s billed on the Coldwell Banker Commercial web site as “land sale.”  On the 10.6-acre site stand a 20,000 square foot school building, a 2800 square foot office building, and an 8500 square foot gymnasium, all set back from the road by a plentiful lawn.  The land goes right down to 400 feet of Hudson River frontage.  Selling agents are in the Cohoes office; 785-9000.  

BOYS UP!  At Catskill High School, in the latest term, 12th grade girls achieving High Honors did NOT greatly out-number boys.  Eleven of those 19 were boys.  That marks a rare break from the pattern of female superiority there and elsewhere.  By way of contrast, at Greenville High, only four boys achieved top honors among seniors in the last term, while eight girls made the grade.

DISCIPLINE CASE.  At a GreeneLand school recently, the principal suspended and sent home a misbehaving student.  The student’s father reacted with anger and indignation.  He demanded reinstatement.  The principal relented.  On the day that the student returned, her best friend was rushed to the hospital, on account of a toxic reaction to pills supplied by the student. 

           --Photos by Rob Shannon 




Friday, May 20, 2011

Greene Money

BUDGETS PASS.  In all parts of GreeneLand on Tuesday, voters who turned out to rule on school budget proposals that were submitted to them by their district boards of education delivered strong majority support.  They authorized, for the county’s six school districts, expenditures on public education during 2011-12 totaling $139.3 million. In doing so they were acquiescing in the prospect of increases--historically small increases, to be sure--in their taxes.  
This show of support for school spending plans proved to be consistent with what occurred elsewhere.   In New York State, outside the five big cities, there are 678 districts where outlays on public schools are subject to approval by local voters.  On Tuesday, in response to proposals made by their locally-elected school trustees, in 634 of those districts, according to The New York Times, majorities of the voters said Yes.
Four of the other 44 districts are near GreeneLand.  In Columbia County, according to The Register-Star, voters in the high-standards Ichabod Crane school district (Kinderhook area) rejected the board-proposed $33.8 million budget.  So, by 1249 votes to 424, did Hudson voters.   And in Ulster County,  according to The Daily Freeman, refusers out-numbered assenters  in the Pine Plains district, by 476 to 413, and in Saugerties, by 1631 to1369. [NOTE.  The foregoing paragraph is a revision of what was published yesterday (5/20).  The original text did not include Columbia County results].
     In GreeneLand, margins of support for those budget proposals ranged from comfortable (Cairo-Durham, 529 to 408) to overwhelming (Catskill, 565-301; Coxsackie- Athens, 854-449; Greenville, 582-255; Hunter-Tannersville, 181-97; Windham-Ashland-Jewett, 178-65). [Daily Mail, 5/18]
The school budgets that were adopted here on Tuesday offer substantial contrasts in financial ‘meaning’: cost per pupil, local tax burden per pupil.  Some of those contrasts are brought out in statistics compiled from State Education Department figures by staff at the Empire Center for New York State Policy.  Thus, in GreeneLand, with projected school enrollments in 2011-12 totaling 6760, and with Tuesday’s passage of  district budgets, cost per pupil works out to $20,624.  As between the six districts, however, cost per pupil will range from $16,452 (Coxsackie-Athens) to $34,171.
The high-cost district is Hunter-Tannersville.  Next highest is Windham-Ashland-Jewett ($26,309 per pupil).  Those districts are much smaller in enrollment (and substantially larger in space) than the other four.  But the correlation between size of enrollment and cost per pupil is not neat.  GreeneLand’s second largest district--Coxsackie-Athens, with 1525 students anticipated in 2011-12--also is the least expensive, and by a big margin.  Its projected cost per pupil is $16,452.   Cairo-Durham is third highest in student population (1458) while being second-lowest in cost per pupil ($16,685).  Greenville’s school district is fourth in student body size (1286) and is fourth in cost per pupil ($20,276).  As for Catskill, it is first in the county in enrollment (1702) and third in projected costs per pupil ($21,863).  
No less interesting are inter-district contrasts, following adoptions of the new school budgets, in consequences for local property tax levies.  Among GreeneLand’s six school districts, according to the Empire Center’s calculations, those costs will range from $7956 (Cairo-Durham) to $24,929 (Hunter-Tannersville).
Our cost per pupil of public schooling, incidentally, is less than the cost per prisoner of incarceration.  Nation-wide, the average is around $24,000 per inmate per year.  In the big northern States such as California and New York, it’s more than $40,000. [Reuters, 5/20]. 
THE GREEN AT GREENE.  GreeneLand’s foremost local bank, in the words of its president, Donald Gibson, experienced “strong” earnings during the latest three-month period. 
According to the official company report, however, net income during January 1-March 30 was the same as the net during the first three months of 2010.  That result ($1.2 million) marks a contrast to results in the same quarters of previous fiscal years.  It suggests a drop in momentum.  But the immediately preceding quarters of the 2010-11 period did show gains.  Consequently, the nine months from July 1, 2010, to March 31, 2011, as compared with the same period in 2009-100, yielded an 8 per cent gain in net income. The raw score was $3.9 million.
The appearance of a slowdown in net income could be due to accounting precautions taken.  Company executives evidently are preparing for an increase in loans that go sour.  Thus:
*Provision for loan losses for the current financial year has been boosted over the same provision in 2009-10, by nearly 20 per cent to $1.2 million.
*Commercial loans extended by the bank have increased relative to residential loans, and those loans, as a general rule, are riskier.
*Properties owned by the bank in consequence of foreclosure action—owned but not earning a return--increased during that same period by $563,000.
*”Nonperforming” bank assets have enlarged.  These are loans for which repayments have ceased while foreclosure actions, often stretching over two years from the time of commencement, have not reached completion.  Their total book value at the end of March 2010 was put at $3.2 million.  The new total is more than double the old one; $6.9 million. That increase, says Mr Gibson, “reflected the decline in the overall economy.”  And it prompted an increase in the bank’s level of allowance for losses on loans that go sour relative to the value of the total portfolio. The new figure is 1.62%.  The March 2010 allowance was 1.33%.  
Those figures can be read as signs of trouble to come.  They also can be read as signs of prudent anticipation. 
Meanwhile, some contrasts are worth noting.  The mammoth Bank of America, having previously closed its Germantown branch (which the Bank of Greene County took over, profitably) is closing its home-loan office in Saratoga, putting 34 people out of work. [TimesUnion, 5/4/11].  And the Bank of Greene County, unlike neighboring banks and other lenders, has avoided all of GreeneLand’s larger financial flops: Friar Tuck, Quality Inn, Shady Harbor Marina, Irving Elementary School makeover, Union Mills Lofts, Catskill Creek condominiums…. 
GreeneLand’s current fiscal health, says County Treasurer Peter Markou in his annual report, is sound.  For 2010, while revenues declined, so did expenses.  The debt burden did not get heavier.   
Also in good fiscal health, according to another treasurer, is the GreeneLand’s Historical Society.  Much of that condition, said David Dorpfeld at the Society’s annual meeting last Sunday, is due to the “very generous” bequest of IBM stock made by the late stalwart member, Olga Santora.

Those gasoline prices that are posted outside stations may apply only to payments in cash.  Credit card purchases may cost more.  The difference is posted on the pump itself, but it must be noticed there and then acted upon BEFORE refueling. 
      The difference at a Catskill Getty station recently (5/16) was seven cents per gallon. 




Sunday, May 15, 2011

Leading Ladies

  In higher education, American women now out-number men.  And for the first time, according to U.S. Census figures, the ladies’ numerical superiority applies to Masters and higher degrees as well as to Bachelor (!) degrees. 
   That situation is eminently consistent with what has been reported persistently about performance at the secondary school level.  Girls evidently rule.  Thus, at Catskill High School in the last term, 16 seniors achieved High Honors; 10 were female.  At Hunter-Tannersville High School, one boy scored high honors, along with 12 girls (and congratulations to Nicholas Tripsas). 
    Those GreeneLand results conform to what is reported elsewhere in the mid-Hudson region as well as the nation.  According to figures supplied by school administrators and reported in newspapers, girls out-numbered boys in the ranks of High Honors achievers at Rondout Valley High School by a score of 18 to 10.  At Red Hook High, the female edge  was 46 to 25.  At Kingston High, 27 girls achieving High Honors in grade 12 were joined by 14 boys.  At little Germantown High, girls who reached the top bracket of achievers in the 12th grade out-numbered boys by 6 to 3. 
     Such figures shape eligibility for admission to college and, particularly, for admission to the more selective colleges.   
     They also shape rates of employment.  According to U.S. Labor Department figures, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, the unemployment rate among men who are classified as members of the work force is currently 9.4 per cent, down from 10.5% in 2010.  For women the figures are 8.4% and 8.6%. 

SCHOLARSHIP NOTE.  The Kiwanis Club of Catskill annually offers two college stipends of $500 to GreeneLand high school seniors.  Selection is related to service as well as scholarship. Applications from Cairo-Durham High School numbered zero.  For the second year.  

PAWED.  According to regular news media reports, on April 14th a GreeneLand lady disturbed a black bear that was sifting through garbage outside her house Round Top.  The bear knocked Joy Bayer-Mozynski down, held her down with one paw while finishing its repast with the other, then departed in peace.  Authorities subsequently set a trap for the bear, but soon removed it.  People who live along traditional bear trails, especially in during the weeks when ursine hibernating has just ended, are warned to keep garbage cans indoors, to forego bird-feeders, and to feed pets inside.

SEX, FAITH, TAXES.  What is a religion?  GreeneLand Judge George Pulver Jr, sitting as a State Supreme Court judge, will soon take on the task of ruling on that question.  The need for a ruling derives from a dispute about the status, for property tax purposes, of a property in Palenville.  That property, once known as the Central Hotel, now is depicted by its primary occupant, Cathryn Platine, as the Phrygianum of the Maetreum of Cybele and “center of the world wide Cybeline revival,” or worship of a particular ancient pagan goddess.  Ms Platine’s claim for ecclesiastical exemption from taxes levied on her Phyrigianum has been rejected by Catskill’s town council.  Judge Pulver has ruled that the rejection was poorly rationalized.  He is calling for a more comprehensive treatment of qualifications for exemption.
   (Ms Platine’s movement—see -- differs substantially from a London-based “world wide” Cybeline revival. Whereas Palenville’s pagans offer shelter and durable fellowship (so to speak) chiefly to persons who have achieved female status by means of surgery, the alternative Cybelians are militant gynocrats.  They cohabit with men on the condition that their partners accept a position of absolute toilet-like subservience.  The prescribed position is dramatized by means of a most extraordinary marriage ceremony. )

SEPARATING: law partners Eugenia Brennan-Heslin and Edward Kaplan, based in Hunter.  Scheduled for a May 27 hearing before Supreme Court Judge Roger McDonough is Ms Brennan-Heslin’s contention that “it is not reasonably practicable to carry on the business…since it is no longer carrying on the purpose for which it was formed and has become dysfunctional….”  She asks that a receiver be appointed to make an accounting of the partnership’s assets and liabilities and to distribute them.  In addition to practicing law, Ms Brennan-Heslin stood for election, back in 2005, on the Democratic and Working Families party lines, as county judge.   She currently works for the State of New York. 

     --Kohl’s advertisement for “perfect bra.”

AS FOR THE MEN, GreeneLand is now home for Major League Baseball’s official Historian.  John Thorn, a Catskill resident since last October, was appointed to the office (vacant since 2008) by Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.  Mr Thorn’s latest book, Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game, pushes the true history of the sport far back beyond its reputed origin at the hands of Abner Doubleday.  (Could it be that local Little League organizers need a suitable season-ending speaker?). 

MOREOVER, GreeneLand is home, so to speak, for a man who has chosen to waive his right to a service that would cost the taxpayers about $800,000. According to an Associated Press story (Daily Mail; Daily Freeman, 4/27), Kenneth Pike, who is serving a long sentence in Coxsackie Correctional Facility for raping a 12-year-old relative, decided to forego getting a heart transplant at public expense, even though relevant laws, plus expert medical diagnosis, make him eligible.  The 55-year old inmate already has undergone, at public expense, triple bypass heart surgery and the insertion of a pacemaker. 
AND for a forthcoming division meeting of Kiwanis Club members, one of the dinner entree choices is  “Chicken Franchise.”   
REMINDER REMINDER REMINDER:  Tuesday (5/17) is school board and school budget election day.