Plans to revitalize the Hamlet of Highland were discussed in 2011. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

For the Town of Lloyd, 2011 began with a bitter note — the announcement that St. Augustine School would close its doors in June. Prior to the beginning of the year, the private Catholic school had struggled with the news the Archdiocese of New York had put them on the chopping block of at-risk schools no longer generating the tuition needed to remain open.

Parents there faced a tough decision during the year — pull their kids out of the private grade school, and away from their teachers and friends, or wait for the other shoe to drop when St. Augustine closed its doors for the final time in June.

The school — one of the last remaining Catholic elementary schools in the area — had been open since 1958 in the picturesque Hamlet of Highland.

For parents whose children were enrolled in the Highland public schools, the year also began with a hush. During a school board meeting in February, more than 50 parents lobbied hard against cuts that would have cut 17 staff members and cut sports altogether. After a long and hard budget process, the Highland schools wound up with a $36.06 million budget and a slightly rosier outlook.

At Lloyd Town Hall, a few reoccurring issues cropped up over and over in 2011 — what to do with the sewer plant, the creation of a new planned residential development zone and how to go about extending the Hudson Valley Rail Trail westward.

Early on in 2011, town engineers knew they’d need more than just the $7.47 million originally approved to upgrade the sewer plant on River Road. Work progressed on course with the new spending cap set at $8.3 million, and everything seemed to be going just fine. Of course, that was before Highland and most of the Hudson Valley met with a very unexpected, catastrophic weather event — Hurricane Irene.

Damage from the severe flooding in August with both Irene and Tropical Storm Lee erased a lot of that work done so far at the sewer plant. All in all, the Town Board had to put forward a Bond Anticipation Notice (BAN) to tack on an extra $2.1 million to the project cost — just to deal with storm damage alone. Town officials expect to get that money back from Federal Emergency Management and state emergency aid, but the BAN would cover costs until that reimbursement arrives.

In March, the firm ABS Development Corp. came to Highland with grand plans for a golf course encircled by 350 new homes, and flex space for industrial and commercial usage on a piece of property off Route 9W. The only problem with the proposed Falcon Ridge development was that the Town of Lloyd had no law to allow for such mixed-use development.

While the town has a planned unit development (PUD) law, ABS and other developers seemed interested in a new law to resurrect their ability to build so-called PRDs. Not everyone in Lloyd was happy about the prospect of another “floating zone” to allow developers more room for thinking out of the box. In October, a crowd of concerned taxpayers came to a public hearing on the draft PRD law, asking how it meshed with the town’s master plan.

Chances are, Highlanders will continue to hear that funny little acronym in 2012. As the year winds down, and now that the public hearing is over, Town Board members are still working on the PRD law.

Again in 2011, Highland’s rail trail continued to be a focus of discussion at Town Hall. However, the tune changed a bit from a song once exclusively about Walkway Over the Hudson to being a song about connectivity. Municipal leaders made their aim of extending the Hudson Valley Rail Trail westward to New Paltz known throughout the year. However, the dream of Rail Trail West didn’t necessarily come true.

In April, Town Board members unveiled their three-part plan for extending the trail from Tony Williams Park to the intersection of South Street and Route 299. Doing so would add 1.9 miles to the pathway and would link most of Lloyd together on a path stretching from South Street to the Walkway.

Later in the spring, property owners along “Section B” — which runs parallel to Route 299 — expressed concern about how much land the Town of Lloyd would need to take in easements to create Rail Trail West. That problem prompted officials to find a workaround solution, moving the trail away from the highway into land owned by a rail trail enthusiast.

In mid-December, town officials announced their intention of scaling back Rail Trail West and only doing Section C for now. Section C is the most expensive part of the $3.5 million project, since it requires a tunnel under Riverside Road. But with only $1.9 million of state funds approved for the project so far — and dwindling coffers in Albany — the $2.3 million price tag of Section C seems just about right. Supervisor Ray Costantino said that by reducing the scope of Rail Trail West for now, the town might still get that state funding. The rest of the trail could be saved for a better day.

Elections in May and November brought some fresh blood to both the school board and the Town Board. Perhaps goaded by the dire predictions earlier in the year, 68.3 percent of voters in the school election voted for that $36.06 million budget. Voters also elected Al Barone, Kim Sweeny and Maria Peterson to the school board.

Ulster County Legislator Paul Hansut, Councilman Herb Litts III and Democratic newcomer Mike Guerriero won big on Nov. 8 and are due to be sworn in on the Town Board in January.

Highland’s schools again closed out the year with a gloomy note. Facing the new reality of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2 percent tax levy mandate, the school board started their budget work even earlier. Again they talked about big cuts — not just to sports, but to choir, band and advanced placement courses. It’s possible that nearly 35 staff positions would be cut. Parents showed up in early December, telling the Board of Education to reconsider making such steep cuts in favor of a budget that might exceed the state-mandated number.

School board members will continue to work on the budget into the spring of 2012. ++