Better relations committee highlights success stories

Western Sullivan people still concerned about growth in Hasidic community

By CHARLIE BUTERBAUGH

MONTICELLO, NY — Every month a mix of Sullivan County officials, local business owners and orthodox Jews roll up their sleeves and talk about conflict.

Leaders of the Hasidic community admit that some bungalow association properties look bad, and they discuss ways to communicate the need for camps and bungalow colonies to take ownership of their problems.

The Committee to Establish Better Relations with Summer Residents, initiated by Sullivan County Legislator Jodi Goodman three years ago, held its last meeting of the summer on August 20. Goodman ended the season on a positive note, recalling highlights of the committee’s efforts.

Cross-cultural communication has resulted in the design of a website for the Sullivan County Vacationers Association, a new association created by Hasidic leaders, that will soon be online. Village of Monticello Mayor James Barnacle said he was able to work with a business and convince the owner to put on a new coat of paint. In the making is a contact list of property owners to streamline communication between officials and the orthodox community.

Other isolated conflicts have been addressed through improved relations between the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department and the Hasidic community, Sheriff Daniel Hogue said at the meeting.

The group is planning to reach out to women in Brooklyn during winter months. “We are learning that in a religious bungalow colony, the women are the catalysts for change,” Goodman said.

She commended Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce President Jacquie Leventoff’s idea to invite trash haulers to the meetings to address complaints of unsightly waste at some colonies.

As a result, Shirley Felder-Morton, owner of Sullivan County First Recycling and Refuse, was able to tell the Hasidic community about increases in the costs of trash disposal that will result from the county’s new tipping fees, which go into effect September 20.

But as communication improves in the central and eastern parts of the county, news of purchases of property by the orthodox community in western Sullivan County continue to cause unrest.

The chief concern of people like Curtis Murns, who lives in the Town of Cochecton, is the economic impact wrought by property tax exemption, which is awarded to religious facilities under New York State’s 420-a program.

The county’s 2003-2004 records show that eight parcels with a combined market value of $441,490 in Cochecton have been awarded complete tax exemption for religious use.

But Cochecton resident Mel Gertner, who owns the Relax Inn in Fosterdale and is affiliated with Hasidic investors who now own the Blue Mountain Resort in Kenoza Lake, said he pays full property tax on his properties since they are for-profit businesses.

The Town of Tusten has a problem that can be more clearly defined. A 376-acre property with a market value of $2,014,828, known as Camp Sternberg, is wholly tax-exempt for religious use, but the 420-a program is only supposed to award exemption to properties specifically used for worship or religious education.

To run Camp Sternberg as a religious facility, Tusten Tax Assessor Ken Baim said at least 300 of the total 376 acres could be assessed and taxed as unused land. He said the vacant land would be assessed at about $180,000, which would bring an annual cash flow of about $5,700 to the town.

However, Baim said challenges of 420-a applications from the local level have failed in the past. His predecessor, Bob Luben, tried to deny Camp Sternberg’s application, but it was thrown out in court.

The better relations commitee will continue meet this fall. For more information call 845/794-3000.