Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Snow Emergency

Responding to the falling snow and predictions that Hudson will get 3 to 7 inches, Mayor William Hallenbeck has declared a snow emergency. What this means for most Hudsonians is this: From 8 p.m. tonight until 12 noon on Thanksgiving Day, cars must be parked on the odd side of the street. For those 16 hours, cars should remain on the odd side of the street no matter what the signs, which are expected to be posted in the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning, indicate. At noon on Thanksgiving, cars must be re-parked to comply with what the signs indicate.

Snow removal is expected to begin at midnight tomorrow night. In preparation for snow removal, the City will begin towing cars improperly parked at 11:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving. 

See further information, consult the City of Hudson website.  

It's Beginning to Look at Lot Like Christmas

In advance of the snow, Ron Gaylord and a crew from the Department of Public Works moved the little houses that comprise Santa's Village into Seventh Street Park yesterday. There is still work to be done on the interiors of the little buildings. The official "opening" of the little village won't happen until December 6, the morning of St. Nicholas' Day, which this year is also the day of Winter Walk on Warren Street. 

These two little houses are being completely refurbished--inside and out--but work is still going on inside, so the windows will remain covered until next Saturday.

This little house has gotten a new coat of paint and will become--appropriately in our town--Santa's art gallery. The artwork of schoolchildren will be displayed inside.

On the outside, this building too only got a coat of paint, but the interior is being completely transformed by the artisans of Etsy.

Finally, there is this house, whose exterior has only been altered by the addition of green shutters, but the interior has been cleverly and tastefully redesigned by Suzanne and Carl Devino of Eustace & Zamus Antiques.

Gossips had the privilege of getting a peek inside.

The project was the brainchild of the indefatigable Ellen Thurston, who has been trying for years to bring together the talents of Hudson's creative community and the Department of Public Works to get Santa's Village renovated. This year, Gia Albergo-Delmar and Abel Ramirez volunteered their time and talent and recruited others to make it happen. Even more improvements to the village are promised for next year.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"They Know That Santa's on His Way . . . "

It's crunch time for the mythical elves at the North Pole as they busily make the toys Santa will deliver to good girls and boys. It's crunch time too for the very real elves here in Hudson as they work frantically to finish the renovations on the sad little houses that comprise Santa's Village, a.k.a. Santa's Slum. 

Gossips has heard that, according to Rob Perry, the superintendent for Public Works, the little houses have to be installed in Seventh Street Park before there is snow on the ground, and with Winter Snow Cato heading our way, time is running out. For those eagerly awaiting the seasonal appearance of the little village, here's a preview of the one of the re-imagined little houses--this one created by Gia Albergo-Delmar.


The Council Adopts a Budget . . . or Maybe Not

The Common Council held a special meeting tonight to vote on the proposed 2015 budget. The meeting was scheduled to begin at 5:45, and it obviously was anticipated to last only 15 minutes, since the Police Committee meeting was scheduled for 6:00. But the Police Committee meeting was cancelled, and the special meeting went on until well after 7:00.

It will be recalled that the bone of contention with the budget was $70,000 to be raised from property taxes as a contribution to a capital reserve fund. Remarkable as it may seem, this $70,000 represented, in a budget of close to $5 million, the difference between a 1.5 percent increase in property taxes and a 2.97 percent increase. The difference for the owner of a house assessed at $250,000 would amount to $45.

At the outset of the meeting, Council president Don Moore introduced a resolution obviously meant to ease the impact of the $70,000. It amended the budget by removing $27,500 from the budget for the city attorney. No sooner had the resolution been introduced than the Council went into executive session, giving as the reason the need to discuss a "personnel matter."

The executive session lasted for close to an hour, and when the public was admitted back into the Council chamber, it seemed the amendment had been set aside. Instead the issue of the $70,000 was the topic of discussion. Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward) made the case for establishing a capital reserve fund, warning that there are "$2.5 million to $2.8 million in expenses coming for, which the city is not prepared." He cited the need to replace the tower truck--the AerialCat purchased for the Hudson Fire Department in 2001--and need to repair the now closed Ferry Street bridge.

Alderman Ohrine Stewart (Fourth Ward) said she could not see raising taxes "because we have a healthy fund balance." Alderman Abdus Miah (Second Ward) suggested that the sale of the vacant lot at Fourth and State streets and the revenue from parking meters should be adequate to underwrite a capital reserve fund.

Stewart's reference to the fund balance, which is reported to be more than $2 million, prompted city treasurer Heather Campbell to explain that a fund balance "is not a pool of money just sitting there." She equated a fund balance to shareholders' equity. "If you sold everything you had and paid all that you owed, what would be left over is the fund balance."

After some discussion about procedure, Alderman Bob "Doc" Donahue (Fifth Ward) proposed his own resolution, which amended the proposed budget by removing the $70,000 that represented the contribution to the capital reserve fund raised by taxes. The resolution was supported by all the aldermen except Nick Haddad, John Friedman (Third Ward), Henry Haddad (Third Ward), and Council president Moore. 

Friedman admonished his colleagues, "We cannot continue to do this. We are acting as if the fund balance can be used as a checkbook." He spoke of the city's crumbling streets, the deteriorated Ferry Street bridge, and poor access to the waterfront.

Alderman David Marston (First Ward) bemoaned the need to raise the capital reserve fund from property taxes. "Taxes do nothing but go up," he protested. "We can't afford to keep raising taxes. We cannot look to fund this where people can afford it least."

When the amendment came to a vote, it passed with 1,383 ayes and 645 nays. Bart Delaney (Fifth Ward), Donahue, Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), Alexis Keith (Fourth Ward), Marston, Miah, and Stewart voted in favor of the amendment; Moore, Friedman, Henry Haddad, and Nick Haddad voted against it. After the meeting, members of the public pondered if the Council had actually adopted the budget, since they had voted on the amendment proposed by Donahue, but they had never actually voted to adopt the budget.

Monday, November 24, 2014

What's Driving the Economy in Hudson?

Earlier this year, Columbia County Tourism did a "snapshot" survey which confirmed something that many of us already believed: "Hudson is the economic driver" of tourism in the county.

Sheena Salvino and Branda Maholtz of Hudson Development Corporation are eager to learn more about what's driving the driver, so they can help businesses in Hudson grow and succeed. Toward that end, they have created a Business Climate Survey to gather data, which will be shared with everyone and will inform decisions about programs, incentives, and opportunities for grants. They urge business owners and members of the creative economy in Hudson to complete the survey, which can be accessed here.

Alternative Sources for Holiday Gifts

The end of this week will see the beginning of the orgy of holiday gift shopping. This year, as always, Gossips enjoins readers to eschew the malls and shop right here in Hudson. On Warren Street and beyond, there are wonderful sources of holiday gifts, and the days after Thanksgiving are particularly bountiful.

This weekend is the second annual Basilica Farm & Flea, the extraordinary market presented in collaboration with Hudson River Exhange. The event opens with Black Friday Soiree, from 5 to 9 p,m. Enjoy cocktails by Lady Jayne's Alchemy and The Hudson Standard and food tastings from various local venues. The soiree is also an opportunity to preview the wares offered by more than sixty vendors.

If you are interested in crafting your gifts, the Art School of Columbia County offers "Make It, Don't Buy It" workshops on Friday, November 28, and Saturday, November 29. Each day from noon to 4 p.m., two-hour sessions will be held in acrylics, watercolor, beading, collage, and small book making. Families are welcome, and projects for younger children are offered. 

The workshops take place at the Old Schoolhouse, 1198 Route 21C in Harlemville, next to the Hawthorne Valley Farm Store. Check the Art School website to learn more about the workshops and to preregister.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bed, Breakfast, and a Lodging Tax

It's no secret that the Common Council is looking for new sources of revenue to keep the City solvent and functioning and to give residents some relief from the increasingly heavy burden of property taxes. One of the favorite ideas, first suggested in a public meeting by Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) back in September, is a lodging tax--a 2 to 8 percent tax applied to room rates at hotels and B&Bs in Hudson. When the idea was first presented, Friedman said a part of the revenue from the tax would be "plowed back into the industry that created it" in the form of a "cohesive marketing program for the city."

Mayor William Hallenbeck questioned the wisdom of the proposal, maintaining that it would discourage tourism. In a press release, Hallenbeck announced his intention to "arrange a meeting with the owners/operators of our city-wide B&Bs." He explained the goal of the meeting in this way: "First, it will help me identify further who they are and who runs them, and secondly and most importantly get their advice on this and any other issue that they have concerns about pertaining to the B&B business." So far, there has been no word that such a meeting has occurred.

B&B proprietors Gossips has spoken with have expressed concern about the possible inequity of the tax. If the tax is only levied on rooms in recognized hotels and B&Bs, the increase in price from the tax could drive patrons to the guest rooms and houses marketed on Airbnb, which might offer lower prices because they are not collecting the lodging tax. 

There are many such accommodations available in Hudson. A search for the destination "Hudson, NY" on Airbnb yields 891 rentals. Not all of them are actually in Hudson. In fact, fewer than a hundred of them are. The others are located elsewhere in Columbia County and the Hudson Valley, as well as across the river in Athens and Catskill and across the border in Massachusetts. Browsing the list though reveals that there are tourist accommodations in homes and buildings where you wouldn't necessarily imagine them to be.

Even though the mayor and some hotel and B&B owners have reservations (no pun intended) about a lodging tax, Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) has taken on the task of researching the experience of five cities in New York that have lodging taxes: Niagara Falls, Peekskill, Rye, Lockport, and Geneva. To gather information, she is posing nine questions:

  1. What year was your tax first initiated?
  2. What is the current percentage rate? Is that the original rate or has it been raised?
  3. How much revenue is raised annually from the tax?
  4. How many beds do you currently have subject to the tax?
  5. What was the purpose of the tax as first proposed--to raise funds generally or to raise funds for a specific purpose, for example, for the promotion of tourism? 
  6. Is the revenue now collected added to the general fund or is money reserved in separate accounts for the promotion of tourism or other purposes?
  7. Has the implementation of the tax offset property taxes either by reducing the need to raise taxes or by increased revenue from tourism?
  8. If money is reserved for tourism, has it been successful in terms of increasing activity and revenue from tourists?
  9. Is the municipality satisfied with the tax as it is, or do you feel it needs adjustment for improvement--for example, does the rate need to be increased, or should the application of funds raised from the tax be redirected?
So far, Garriga has received information from two of the five cities. In Niagara Falls, a 4 percent lodging tax was initiated in 1991. In 2006, it was increased 1 percent to finance a trolley to transport tourists to hotels and B&Bs. In Peekskill, where there is only a Holiday Inn Express with 76 rooms, a 3 percent lodging tax was introduced in 2013. So far in 2014, the revenue from the lodging is $64,000, which has not helped to offset any general taxes.

Friday, November 21, 2014

It Isn't Over Until It's Over

The word from the Board of Elections is that the ballots that were set aside on Tuesday, Wednesday, and part of yesterday will be counted on Monday.

A Historic Ghost Story

Among the treasures Gossips recently inherited is a booklet published in 1987 on the occasion of the sesquicentennial of the Town of Greenport. It was prepared by the Greenport Historical Society, and it is a goldmine of information and lore about the area surrounding Hudson that seceded from the city in 1837. One story, which is particularly appealing, has to do with Hudson Bush Farm. Readers who have visited Hudson Bush Farm, attended a party or fundraiser there, or toured the spectacular gardens on a Garden Conservancy Open Day may never have realized that this splendid early house was once believed to be haunted. Here is the story, as it appeared in Greenport: The Forgotten Town.

Photo: Rural Intelligence
In Greenport there is an old house long suspected of being haunted. Known years ago as "Hudson Bush," it was the home of Henry I. Van Rensselaer, one of the landed gentry of his day. "Young Harry," as he was called, was a colonel in the Revolutionary Army where he served with pride and distinction.
When he returned from the wars, he took up his former aristocratic life, entertaining many people, a custom in those princely homes where there were many servants. Since he retired early, at 9 p.m. he handed each guest a tallow dip which served as a hint that it was bedtime. Later, he would return to his handsome dining room in his dressing gown and pour three glasses of Madeira wine which he would then drink, voicing three solitary toasts: "To my Country!" "To General Washington!" "To Harry Van Rensselaer!"
Years afterward, the house was said to be haunted, and no one would live there. Then a brave man rented it. After staying two nights without incident, he planned to bring his family. The third night as he sat before the fireplace alone, the door at one end of the broad hall began to rattle. When he went to see who was there, the door at the other end took up the clatter. Then the whole parlor and finally the rest of the house shivered ominously. The man was so frightened that he went all the way to Hudson and spent the night.
The next day he complained to the landlord who said, "Oh, that was only old Col. Harry. He wants his nightcap!" He explained about the three glasses of wine, and the tenant agreed to try to appease the ghost. That night, he set out three glasses of claret, but the rattling was repeated, and he ran out, sleeping all night in the barn. Again he contacted the landlord and told him about the claret. "Oh no!" said this host, "He wouldn't want claret. Only Madeira will do." That night, the tenant tried again, using Madeira wine for the toasts, and the rattling was not heard. It seems that the ghost of old Harry was finally satisfied.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Barrett Victory Confirmed

Today, at 2:15 p.m., John Ciampoli, attorney for the Kelsey campaign, announced that he had been directed to stop scrutinizing absentee ballots before they were opened and counted. At that point, 813 absentee ballots had already been considered, and 192 had been set aside, principally because of objections from Ciampoli on the basis of "qualifications." He regularly questioned voters' qualifications to vote in Columbia County because absentee ballots had been sent to an address in New York City or New Jersey or because there was some reason to believe that an address in Columbia County was that of a second home. By this afternoon, it had become clear that, even after all the absentee ballots cast by second home owners (who are typically also registered Democrats) had been set aside, Didi Barrett's lead over Mike Kelsey was steadily increasing, and, with only the absentee ballots from one district in Greenport and all of Hudson and Livingston left to be counted, it was not possible for Kelsey to close the gap.


Throwback Thursday on Gossips

Here is another picture found in the c. 1975 newspaper supplement "New Life for an Old City: A Decade of Revitalization/Hudson, New York." 

The picture presents a challenge to all the HBBs (Hudson Born and Bred) who may be reading Gossips. Who are these very '70s young people striking a pose on Promenade Hill?

The Evolution of a Building

Recently a newspaper supplement called "New Life for an Old City: A Decade of Revitalization/Hudson, New York" came into my possession. Strangely, for such a historic document, it was undated, but it is possible to surmise that the decade in question was 1965 to 1975. It contained two pictures of the Washington Hose Company firehouse--one taken before 1965, when the firehouse was still surrounded by other historic buildings; the other taken after the firehouse had been restored as part of Urban Renewal. Those two pictures are shared below, followed by a picture of the firehouse as it appears today. 


Busy at the Board of Elections

Yesterday, Sam Pratt reported on the progress of the absentee ballot count in Columbia County: "Barrett slowly but steadily extends lead over Kelsey." Today, Arthur Cusano reports on the progress in the Register-Star: "The counting continues." If you look closely at the photograph that accompanies Cusano's report, you will understand why there have been few posts on Gossips in the past few days.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Last Night at City Hall

The mayor's hearing on the budget lasted all of three minutes. The mayor opened the hearing, acknowledged that he had received written comments from Steve Dunn, and proclaimed that those wishing to comment "shall rise from their seat and state their name." No one rose from his or her seat to make a comment, and thus the hearing was promptly closed.

The most newsworthy part of all that transpired at City Hall last night came after the Council had run through the agenda of its regular November meeting. The room was filled to overflowing with people who had turned out to defend the Savoia. Incited by John Mason's report in the Register-Star about the Police Committee meeting on October 27, "Closing time for bars under scrutiny," and believing that the Council would be discussing the Savoia, a large contingent of Savoia patrons came out to speak of the importance of the bar to Hudson's African American community and to praise its proprietor, Barbara Walthour.

John Mason reports on the event in today's Register-Star: "Support for the Savoia brings out large crowd." Interestingly, the Register-Star seems to have had prior knowledge of the community's plans to attend the Council meeting. Register-Star photographer, David Lee was on hand to take pictures, and earlier in the day Register-Star reporter Arthur Cusano had interviewed Walthour.

What was interesting about the event was that it took so long to dispel the misconception that the Common Council was or even could entertain the idea of shutting the Savoia down. Finally, Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) asked rhetorically and with some exasperation, "Could we stop this charade? We can't do anything."

The situation seemed to be clarified toward the end of the discussion, when a Savoia patron, who identified himself for Gossips only as Randall, alleged that "the police department is doing unfair reporting [about the Savoia] to the [New York State] Liquor Authority." He attested that the Savoia was "probably one of the strictest and most well-run establishments." To these comments, Council president Don Moore responded, "We either have to have faith in what the police tell us or not."