By Matt Youngfrau
FORESTBURGH January 31, 2003 Back in 1989, Lakeside Forest Clove Development established a $65,000 trust to protect the eagles in a portion of the Town of Forestburgh. In 2000, once the threat was determined to be over, the fund was supposed to be disbanded. The rules of the trust called for it to be applied by the town to environmental and recreational purposes.
On June 7, 2001, it came time to disperse the funds and liquidate the account. At that time, the total, with interest, had reached $83,600, according to Forestburgh Supervisor John J. Bill Sipos.
Last November, Lori McKean, executive director of the Eagle Institute, approached the town for support of an eagle blind on Plank Road. The project cost was estimated at $94,000. McKean told the board she needed a resolution from them supporting the project so they could move forward, but she was not looking for any financial backing from the town.
The board passed the resolution of support but did not give or lend any money to the Institute.
Meanwhile, ideas were still being kicked around for the trust fund money. One major idea mentioned was using the funds for the recreation program, which has been around for more than 30 years.
The trustees of the fund, however, were against doing any project that could or should be supported by taxpayer dollars.
One of the trustees of the fund, Ken Schultz, approached the board in December to discuss giving the money to the Institute. Schultz stated $30,000 had to be spent by the end of December. In fact, Schultz met with board members Danielle Mack and Eugene Raponi privately to go over programs.
On December 9, a check was written by the trustees to the Eagle Institute for $65,000. This raised many concerns amongst the Forestburgh Town Board members, one being that, according to the rules of the trust, that money had to stay in Forestburgh. With operations of the Institute in Narrowsburg and Pennsylvania, the board felt that is not guaranteed unless the Institute had to account for all the money.
Sipos asked Highway Superintendent Dan Hogue Jr. to come up with some numbers if Plank Road, where the Eagle Institute wants to construct the eagle blind, needed to be reconstructed. A concern was raised over the bus traffic the Eagle Institute gets in Narrowsburg and Pennsylvania. The total cost of widening the road and other extensive work would total more than $405,000, according to Hogue.
The subject was once again broached at Forestburghs reorganizational meeting Monday night, January 13. Sipos wanted input from his board about what direction they should head towards now.
The funds were supposed to be applied for environmental or recreational purposes, Sipos stated. We have had a lot of discussions on what to do with that money. While a number of projects were discussed, there was nothing formal decided.
Galligan stated that he would abstain from the issue due to his longstanding friendship with the trustees (besides Schultz, other trustees are Ben Wechsler and Davis Chant).
This is not a simple situation, Galligan remarked. It could lead to a possible costly litigation. We should not try this matter publicly.
Sipos opened the floor to public input. Those who spoke were in favor of the town pursuing legal action to get the money back. And Sipos did admit that the board should have been more diligent in monitoring the situation.
Sipos, after hearing from the public, asked the board if they wished to commence legal action. Sipos made the motion, and it was seconded by Deputy Supervisor George Cuff. The motion was passed 3-0-2, with board members Galligan and Raponi abstaining due to personal relationships with the trustees.
Sipos then asked the board if they should rescind the resolution supporting the Institutes project.
In light of the new facts, I dont think we should go forward, commented Mack. We support their efforts but not any funding. We needed to do our homework.
That resolution passed 3-2, with Galligan and Raponi against it.
Later in the meeting, based on all that had happened, the board tabled the resolution to re-appoint Schultz to serve as Conservation Advisory Officer 4-1, with Raponi against tabling. The matter is expected to be further discussed at the next meeting on Thursday, February 6.
Also at the meeting, board members were unsure whether or not the trustees were invited. While there were about 30 people in attendance, none of the trustees were present.
After the meeting, the parties involved weighed in on the situation.
We wanted their blessing. We did not ask them for money, McKean stated. We are not looking to use taxpayer money. We get most of our funding from private donations.
This is a conflict between the town and the trustees. Unfortunately, we are caught in the middle, McKean continued. The board is trying to act responsibly, [but] we are very disappointed that they rescinded their support. This is a good project. I am very disappointed.
McKean went on to say that the Eagle Institute is taking a wait-and-see approach to the situation. They cannot and will not spend the money until the litigation is cleared up.
This is not about the Institute, McKean said. Weve been doing good work for four years. This project is a win-win situation. It is a shame the waters are muddied by this. [Town Supervisor] Bill [Sipos] has been a huge supporter. This project is good for Forestburgh, the county, and the eagles. The problem is not us.
We appeared several times before the board, Schultz stated. All three trustees had to vote unanimously to dissolve the trust. We would not allow the money to be used for taxpayer projects.
Our concern has been the bald eagles, Schultz continued. We tried to find a project to support. We solicited input from the public. The Eagle Institute came forward. We supported the project. The board never said to us dont do it. They wanted $25,000 for recreation.
Schultz went on to say that at least three conversations took place where Sipos asked for the $25,000 for a youth and senior center. The trustees did not want to fund it. According to Schultz, the fund had $76,000 in it. Of that, $65,000 was given to the Eagle Institute. The other $11,000 would go to the town for recreational purposes.
We had to take action, Schultz remarked. We had pressure from the state, and we did not want to pay a tax penalty. It was incumbent upon us to move ahead.
I was surprised and disappointed by the decision [to sue us], Schultz continued. We were not invited to the meeting. This is about personal conflicts. They have made some poor decisions. They are not looking out for the best interests of the town. This is a waste of time.
Our attorney has to review the papers, Schultz said. I have not talked to the other trustees, but my personal feeling is to fight this. We were acting with the town. There was never an objection raised. They have not demonstrated the need for a kids program.
My position on this is to represent the constituents and the youth first, Sipos stated. This is not a personal issue. It is a win-win situation. We support their [the Eagle Institutes] mission, not what happened here.
The recreation program is the most important commodity, Sipos continued. This is not a money issue. We want to move forward in a positive direction for both projects. What is most important is the children and their program.