By Ted Waddell
GRAHAMSVILLE December 2, 2005 In November, the 3,553 residents of the Town of Neversink got a surprise just in time for the holidays.
The Sullivan County Legislature was going to raise local property taxes by a whopping 74 percent.
Ever since NYC reservoirs inundated several small communities, the city has been paying the county money, thus reducing the amount of taxes paid by residential property owners in the rural town.
At Wednesday night's public meeting at Tri-Valley Elementary School, town councilman Richard I. Coombe Jr. presented a detailed overview of how the numbers work and their effect upon taxpayers.
According to town officials, copies of this review of the county's property tax structure will be available at the clerk's office.
Town Supervisor Georgianna Lepke blasted the Legislature for dropping the budget ball and not pursuing remedial courses to the 74 percent tax hike.
At one point, she held up a recently published letter to the editor by Legislative Chair Chris Cunningham in which he explained the county's position and proceeded to rip it apart, shred by shred.
While some folks in the county think it's high time residents of the watershed town pay their fair share, local taxpayers complained about the amount of property exempt from tax rolls in other county towns: 40 percent is off the rolls in Fallsburg, while in Neversink, 12 percent is off the rolls.
Coombe said recent meetings with William Larkin, chairman of the NYS Real Property Committee, and NYS Senator John J. Bonacic yielded positive results in the town's first steps to address the problem.
"Before we get the bill written, we need to get the [local] support," said Coombe. "We have a job to do in educating the legislature. . . . The power is in the people."
Coombe said that for weeks, he tried to arrange a meeting with Cunningham but only got as far as playing e-tag with the legislative chairman.
"We deserve an explanation," he said.
Ron Goodstein, a local businessman, weighed in, "They don't give a damn about us. . . . They're a bunch of opportunists who go the way the wind blows.
Ken Bivins didn't pull any punches when voicing his displeasure at the tax hike and the legislature's reaction.
"They're screwing us right up the old kazoo, and there's not a damn thing we can do about it," he said.
Other residents said the town should sue the county, while still others called for refusing to pay their property taxes until the issue is settled.
Lepke also blasted the local press for not bringing the problem before the eyes of the public.
"We have our work cut out for us," she said.
As the meeting drew to a close, Goodstein said it would be a good idea to make up some bumper stickers reading "F--- The Legislature."
"You fill in the blanks," he said.