I’ve had several requests for charts showing population changes for Berkshire and Ulster counties, similar to the ones already posted here for Columbia, Greene and Dutchess. Here you go:
If you want to work with the raw data, here it is as a PDF. As ever, this info is presented with the caveat that population figures, taken in isolation, should not be interpreted as a measure of prosperity.
For example, though Berkshire County is widely regarded as more prosperous than Columbia, their population fell slightly over the past decade, whereas Columbia’s stayed essentially unchanged—up by two residents. (Meanwhile, half of the entire Berkshire population loss is attributed to Pittsfield and North Adams, which are very different in character from much of the rest of the county.) Such trends ought to be examined in a fuller context of other demographic data and on-the-ground observations.
In the last Hudson election, voters were given relatively few choices by the major party committees. Many incumbents ran unopposed, and many of the contested races occurred with only minimal public discussion and debate.
With no mayoral race on the ballot, turnouts for major contests such as the Council President race were unusually low—about half that of each of the previous five cycles. But this time around, it appears that voters may actually have some choices—both between the party nominees, and also in some primaries.
As already reported here, the Hudson Democrats are endorsing Nick Haddad and Sarah Sterling for Mayor and Council President, respectively. Many now expect the Republicans to run a ticket of Bill Hallenbeck and Bart Delaney for those offices.
In the 1st Ward, at least three Democrats (maybe more) will be vying for two Alderman slots—Tim Rogers, Larissa Parks, and Geeta Cheddie—and the Republicans may find at least one candidate of their own. Ditto in the 5th Ward, with three Democrats rumored to be running: Paul Beaumont, Bob Donahue and Cappy Pierro.
In the 3rd Ward, Democrat Chris Wagoner will seek a third term as Alderman, on a ticket with attorney John Friedman, with Ellen Thurston running for Supervisor. Mike O’Hara will challenge incumbent John Musall for 1st Ward Supervisor in a Democratic primary.
Though several incumbents in the remaining wards appear vulnerable to challenges, it remains to be seen if other party nominees or independent candidates emerge.
In this site’s opinion, contested primaries (in September) and general elections (in November) are good for democracy. Those already in positions of power will invariably rail against such competition—typically invoking expectations of “party loyalty” to whip others back into place. But it should be remembered that with or without party committee backing, anyone can run for office.
All it requires is to prepare petitions carefully, secure the necessary signatures, and file them in a timely way. If more candidates in a party file petitions for an office than there are slots open, that party committee can’t spend money on its endorsees until after the primary. So the playing field is more level than many assume, with the candidates who work hardest to reach the voters directly having the best chance of winning.
As promised, at the end of this post is a chart comparing the results of the 2000 and 2010 Census results by municipality in Columbia, Greene, and Dutchess Counties. Or, you can download the data as a PDF by clicking here. This table includes the raw numbers, the raw change in population, and the percentage change for each town (or city). This doesn’t include separate breakdowns for villages and other subdivisions within each town.
In presenting these simple comparisons, it should be noted that population figures are some of the most commonly-misinterpreted statistics cited by politicians and planners. To really understand shifts in population, one needs to look at larger universe of data and trends.
For example, population declines are almost always interpreted as bad news by civic leaders. But say a town’s population goes down while its residents’ average income or local sales tax revenues go up—isn’t that an improvement overall? What if the percentage of children under 18 goes down, while property values go up, improving the teacher/student ratios in the local schools—wouldn’t that also be an improvement?
One also has to look beyond the bottom-line stats to see if some key statistical method has changed, such as no longer counting prisoners in the local population, as has occurred in Hudson. (Without the 500-odd prisoners from 2000, Hudson’s decline in population is actually quite modest, more like 4%.) Taking a look at the results below, one suspects that there was some major redefinition of the Census’ definitions or borders for the Town of Milan, which surely did not lose half its population in 10 years.
The U.S. Census has finally begun releasing town-by-town results for the 2010 Census. The new American Factfinder software for browsing this data is needlessly complicated, and it'll take some time (for me, anyway) to sort it all out; but here are the new raw numbers for Columbia, Greene, and Dutchess County municipalities:
DUTCHESS COUNTY Amenia 4,436 Beacon 15,541 Beekman 14,621 Clinton 4,312 Dover 8,699 East Fishkill 29,029 Fishkill 22,107 Hyde Park 21,571 La Grange 15,730 Milan 2370 North East 3,031 Pawling 8,463 Pine Plains 2,473 Pleasant Valley 9,672 Poughkeepsie 43,341 Red Hook 11,319 Rhinebeck 7,548 Stanford 3,823 Union Vale 4,877 Wappingers 27,048 Washington 4,741
Soon(ish), I'll run a comparison of these numbers to the 2000 Census.
Thanks to the sharp eyes of a Claverack resident, I just became aware of this amazing, searchable database at the Times-Union’s website—which allows you to track what people are paying for property taxes throughout the state.
Here’s the link just for Columbia County, showing the top taxpayers in descending order. It starts with the Top 50, but you can continue as far as you want from there.
One thing to bear in mind—some of the taxes listed are hypothetical, in that the Property Tax Tracker includes nonprofits, but does not identify them as such. For example, I don’t believe the Fireman’s Home in Hudson pays $600,000+ in property taxes (nor should it); that's just the amount they would pay based on their assessment, if it were a for-profit entity.
(Also, it’s not clear whether in all cases the taxes paid by the owner of multiple but unconnected parcels are linked; for example, if you owned a house in Kinderhook and a building in Hudson, would the taxes be combined for ranking purposes?)
Assembling this data must have cost the T-U thousands, maybe tens of thousands (though some counties, such as Dutchess, charge far less for assessment data than others; I once paid $5 for the complete Dutchess County residential rolls on a CD, info that would cost hundreds in Columbia). I’ll be doing some sifting of it over the next week or two.
Anyone who's seen the movie Chinatown knows that if you really want to suss out what's going on behind the scenes in any given place, you'll need to do some digging at the Real Property Department.
So recently, this site paid a visit to the Columbia County version of Los Angeles' Hall of Records to leaf through some stacks of recent RP-5217s.
An RP-5217 is a one-page document filed whenever a piece of property changes hands. It memorializes transaction info such as the buyer, seller, prices paid, the attorney of record, and the like. Here's some things learned just from a casual review of 18 months worth of Hudson RP-5217s:
• A whopping $5,350,000 was the sale price in August of last year on LB Furniture Industries LLC, to formalize the sale of its manufacturing site to Grossinger Management Inc. of Delancey Street in Manhattan. (To the extent that Grossinger or its partners may already have owned most of LB, this price was probably largely nominal.)
• In another large sale, this one for $2,750,000, Eight Iron Buildings Inc. (which uses the offices of Dick Koskey's accounting firm at 502 Union Street as its legal address) purchased One Hudson City Centre in July 2010 for far less than its assessed value of $6,220,100. It had been reported a year previously that Columbia County would purchase the building as a resolution of the Department of Social Services/Ockawamick controversy -- but the seller to Eight Iron was First Niagara, not the County.
• The City acquired five properties in November 2010: 253 Columbia Street, from Barry Kang; 11 Columbia Street from Earsel Napier; 24 and 212-214 Tanners Lane from Carl Ramm; and 518 Washington Street from Timothy Warren, all “pursuant to a court order in tax foreclosure action.”
• The City sold 69-71 North Third Street, a property which had been off the tax rolls for most of the previous decade, for $275,000, more than $100,000 less than its assessed value of $381,800, to a corporation called Second Ward LLC, which does not turn up in State records, searchable here. An even better bargain for the buyer: The City also sold 325 and 327 State Street, assessed separately at $109,700 and $109,500, in February of last year for a combined $33,630 to Housing Resources of Columbia County.
A number of prominent Hudson players have been moved recently to transfer ownership of property from their own names into trusts or corporations, transfers which are commonly done for either tax or liability reasons. For example:
• Two of the more active filers of RP-5217s over this period have been the Mayor's assistant, Carmine Pierro and his family members. For example, Pierro and his wife transferred ownership of 13 Parkwood Boulevard into the Carmine A. Pierro Revocable Living Trust and Leitha A. Revocable Living Trust. Cappy and Louis Pierro, one also learns from these records, are trustees of something called the Antoinette Shallo Irrevocable Trust.
• Linda Mussmann and Claudia Bruce recently have formed a corporation called Paperplay, named for one of their early theater productions, and have transferred ownership of some of their dozen or so properties (including 304 and 312-314 State Street) from their own names to Paperplay for $0. According to the New York State Department of State's Division of Corporations, Paperplay LLC was incorporated on January 6th of this year as a domestic limited liability company.
• The co-directors of Time & Space Limited acquired these properties for what appears to be a great deal less than their assessed value. 312-314 State, assessed at $75,000, was purchased by Mussmann and Bruce for $10,000 from the Estate of Eleanor Simmons. Mussmann (without Bruce) also acquired 304 Columbia, assessed at $93,000, for $20,000 from David and Edward Staats in April 2010. Each was subsequently transferred to Paperplay this year.
• The attorney of record on these transactions: Cheryl Roberts, who works for the City in a legal capacity, and is the principal architect of the (deeply flawed) draft Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP) set in motion when Mussmann chaired the City's Waterfront Committee.
Other intriguing property transfers, whose purposes are not immediately obvious to the casual observer, crop up in these records. For example:
• On December 3rd of last year, cartoonist Lawrence Katzman (father of Richard, President of Kaz) acquired 14 and 17 Montgomery Street for $0 from the City of Hudson Industrial Development agency, then immediately sold it back for $0 to the Hudson Development Corporation.
• Why HDC didn't simply acquire the properties directly from CHIDA, rather than going through Katzman, is not obvious. But it again may have something to do with taxes: about seven weeks after these transfers, the Register-Star reported that “a resolution to write off interest and penalties, not to exceed $2,955.37, associated with the donation of the Kaz Inc.-owned warehouses at 14 and 17 Montgomery St. to the Hudson Development Corporation.”
• And lastly, at the end of 2009 the City transferred for $0 a passel of parcels in the North Bay to the State's Office of General Services said to be “Lands Under Water of Hudson River,” though several of the locations are east of the railroad tracks. Interestingly, the City has firmly avoided exploring what lands in that same category might be present in the South Bay, claimed to be owned by Holcim...
Now, don't you want to pay your own visit to the Hall of Records, and see what's happening in your own town?
The closing of the Catskill plant was as necessary as it was inevitable.
Inevitable, due to both the nature of Holcim’s international business model and this particular plant’s challenges. And necessary, to safeguard the health of thousands of downwind neighbors.
As a vast global corporation, Holcim wants to reap big profit margins from very large plants which can dominate their regional markets. They no longer have much interest in running smaller, less efficient facilities with narrow profit margins.
While Holcim failed to build such a plant in Columbia County, Lafarge in Ravena stole a march on its Swiss competitors, and is poised to vastly expand their plant to the north in Rensselaer County. Even if Catskill could expand, Lafarge’s head start would largely foil Holcim’s preferred modus operandi, which is to lock up markets, then bleed them dry. Millions of dollars in fines for price-fixin are, after all, a documented part of their track record.
Moreover, as an older plant with many maintenance and safety issues—having been hit with hundreds of thousands in fines over the past few years—the Catskill kiln was increasingly a drag on the company’s bottom line. Coupled with a national economic downturn—far from being immune to recessions, cement plants closely track building trends—there simply wasn’t much money in that site at that scale.
But any major expansion in scale and technology would necessitate a new permitting process, much ike the failed Greenport one. Despite efforts during the Bush administration to gut NSR (New Source Review), the Catskill plant would clearly be subject to such regulatory oversight. It would again need some 14-20 different permits from local, county, State and Federal agencies.
That would mean a risky new investment of tens of millions on a highly-speculative venture, in a location where citizens had already demonstrated the tenacity and means to mount a prolonged, well- informed opposition. They again could expect a long, expensive, and low-percentage fight against residents all over Columbia, Berkshire, Dutchess, Litchfield, and other downwind counties.
Worse for Holcim, the Catskill location is squarely within the famous southwestern viewshed of Olana, and any expansion there would impact a Scenic Area of Statewide Significance—again, guaranteeing a difficult, stringent review, with many or all of the same 30+ groups which opposed the SLC project to weigh in all over again. And this time, they wouldn’t be starting from scratch, but would have a world of knowledge, contacts, expertise and organizing know-how to bring to bear.
Moreover, the limestone reserves at Catskill would not justify such an investment, even if the permitting were successful.
The Holcim board (and the investors who track its stock) never behaved particularly rationally or cleverly here. But the $58 million they flushed down the drain the last time they tried such a move is hard even for overconfident, negligent corporate officers to overlook.
As for economic development: Again and again, planners and residents and businesspeople here have agreed that the long-range goal has to be sustainable, compatible and contextual projects which complement each other and build upon the strengths of the region.
Most who worked at Holcim (SLC) Catskill knew this was coming long ago, and many moved on to other work already since the multiple rounds of job eliminations and layoffs began about five years ago. Finding a new job is possible; finding a new lung isn’t. The thousands of residents downwind of Catskill are much better off.
Those who now call the closing a “tragedy” (including some, like Linda Mussmann, who once berated this company as an “awful mega-corporation” whose goal is “to take more than it can ever ever give back”) evidently don’t consider it tragic when kids get asthma or grandparents are told they have cancer.
In December 2003, Linda Mussmann called St. Lawrence Cement (now Holcim) an “awful mega-corporation” whose "goal" is “to take more than it can ever ever give back.”
Now she considers the departure of that company a "tragedy."
At Catskill, the company was indeed taking from our communities (by polluting the lungs and crops of its downwind neighbors) more than it ever gave back. Meanwhile, they’ve grieved their taxes on both sides of the river repeatedly, while others pay their full share.
The SLC Catskill plant emitted mercury, arsenic, lead and fine particulate matter into the air and water of its neighbors for many years. It was heavily fined in 2008 for some 300 safety violations, putting its workers at risk. It was photographed by Riverkeeper releasing large plumes of waste materials into the river... These were not the actions of a good neighbor.
Other companies bring good, safe jobs to our area without controversy, without dividing people, and without causing others harm. We should build an economy based on mutual respect, not profiting at others’ expense. Naturally, we as a country should “make things.” But we can and should manufacture make things in a manner which doesn’t selfishly and recklessly take other things from others--essential things, like our health.
Businesses like L’Eurial and Etsy promise as many or more jobs than Catskill ever provided—with none of the downside impacts, none of the controversy, and far more prospects of surviving future economic turbulence. That’s where our focus should be, rather than attempting to reinvent a brief 1950s industrial heyday, which is not coming back, no matter how nostalgic some might be for it.
• My count of places where one can get coffee-to-go during daylight hours within the Hudson city limits now stands at 19.
• Around noon, police officers were seen attempting to revive a man lying on the ground near the corner of 5th and Warren streets in Hudson.
• Facing an uphill re-election campaign in the 3rd Ward against popular Democratic alderman (and calendar maestro) Ellen Thurston, GOP Supervisor Bill Hallenbeck is said to be contemplating a run for Mayor instead.
• Three houses reportedly sold in town last week, two via realtor (and alderman) Sarah Sterling.
• A Register-Star reporter was allegedly assaulted in the head with a glass during a bar argument with a local resident this weekend. Charges are believed to have been filed, but nothing’s turned up in published police blotters yet.
• Progress on bathrooms and a tree-planting plan are moving along at the Basilica Industria under its new ownership.
• The local Democratic Committee did not resolve several of its key endorsement questions last Saturday (with some committeemen insisting on purity of party affiliation in some cases while contemplating primaries against their own party members in others). They are hoping to pull a slate together in time for an April fundraiser.
• The Save 900 Columbia petition was submitted by Carole Osterink with over 650 signatories. The petition is still online and gathering additional support.