By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO January 20, 2006 With Sullivan County in the midst of a housing boom where new deeds increased by nearly ten percent in just the last year, a housing summit was held at Sullivan County Community College on Wednesday.
Several dozen people attended the summit held throughout the morning. But the focus of the meeting wasnt on the details of the housing market so much as it was about specific issues related to housing.
The first half of the summit was devoted to energy savings, while the second half included complaints about local taxes and a presentation by Sullivan County Community Development and Grant Supervisor Joseph Czajka on several aspects of housing particularly the multitude of grants available.
Clearly, Charles Petersheim, president of Catskills Farms and Bluestone Construction, stood out from all the other speakers.
Petersheim lambasted high taxes, particularly in the western end of the county where there are no services.
He moved here two years ago and said that Sullivan County has a lot of momentum. But he called the school and property taxes outrageous. High-end homes are being asked to pay $10-15,000 a year, he said.
Sullivan County is beautiful, but is it that beautiful, Petersheim asked. He blamed the problem on fingerpointing and a lack of fiscal accountability by political officials.
Some of the schools are mismanaged in a way which is criminal, he said.
Petersheim believed that some municipalities should merge together because of their size.
Sheldon Slifstein, the new president of the Sullivan County Board of Realtors and an associate broker with Yeager Real Estate in Liberty, said that nationwide home sales increased by 600,000 last year to 7.5 million.
He said the housing market in Sullivan County is for second homes and retirees. He complained that new homes are being assessed higher than existing homes, he said.
Czajka ran through the list of grants available to home buyers and developers. He recommended people go to their local banks, Cornell Cooperative Extension, the new Liberty Community Development Corporation and of course they can always come see him.
He said there was a lack of multi-family rental units available at an affordable and regular rate. He also complained about rising property and school taxes amidst a median home price which has risen 25 percent over the last year to $185,000.
He said a lack of community involvement on school boards, town boards and planning boards was keeping the issues from being addressed.
The median income for a family of four in Sullivan County is $50,000, he said. The average school and property tax bill is nearly $5,000. The average family cannot purchase a new home in Sullivan County, he said.
Finally, Dick Riseling who runs Apple Pond Farm in Callicoon Center, gave a presentation on organic materials he is producing, as well as renewable energy such as wind power. Exactly 985 more kilowatt hours were produced by the windmill at his farm last year than he used. He displayed a piece of organic jeans and said that vegetable oil can be used for trucks.
Melissa Lanza, the past president of the Sullivan County Board of Realtors and owner of Century 21 Lanza Realty, said the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development did a good job in assembling all of the information presented Wednesday.
In the future, she is interested in hearing from developers who have implemented the energy savings programs, grants, and tax incentives for affordable housing and other programs.
She agreed that taxes continue to be the largest problem facing Realtors in the county who are trying to sell homes.