Flower maintenance funds may get ax in Shandaken

By Jay Braman Jr.
Perhaps it’s a sign of the times.
As governments on all levels works to cut spending during the current poor economy, frivolous expenditures are called into question. In Shandaken a popular yet controversial project is now on the chopping block, and some say the funds saved should be spent helping the ever increasing needy population instead.
At an August 25 workshop session, the Shandaken Town Board mulled over the latest attempt to create a conflict free plan for maintaining flowers in the Phoenicia Business District, but the changing times prompted one audience member to suggest that the $7,000 needed might be better spent helping local families put food on their tables.
There was discussion about creating a Phoenicia Improvement District by public referendum this November. At present the town helps the SHARP Committee operate a $7,000 beautification project along the hamlet’s Main Street. If approved that cost would instead be paid by the taxpayers in Phoenicia.
This raised a timely issue, according to Frank Nazzaro, a town resident that ran unsuccessfully for supervisor last year.
Nazzaro, who is familiar with the local food pantry at the Phoenicia Methodist Church, suggested the town shift gears and prioritize more current concerns. Nazzaro said the number of families that need help from the food pantry is growing rapidly, but the town only contributes $1,500 to it. Nazzaro thinks more funds should go to the pantry and the beautification program should be done with volunteer help.
“We’re spending fives times more on flowers than on food right now,” he said.
Earlier this year the town’s senior citizen nutrition program, that also operated in the Phoenicia Methodist Church, was suddenly eliminated by the Ulster County Office of the Aging.
The program has been taken over by the town, but relies on donations and volunteer efforts to bring lunches to the seniors. It remains unclear if the town will contribute funds to that program.
The beautification project was dubbed “flowergate” two years ago following questions as to how town funds were authorized to go toward the purchase of flowers and related items plus pay for the labor to water them.
While no one complained about the project, some town board members at the time felt it might not be an appropriate use of taxpayer money. With the project in jeopardy the SHARP Committee decided to keep it going with private donations and some town funding.
Nazzaro believes the flower project could become an all-volunteer program with donated materials. He also thinks it should be a townwide project.