Transcript: Trustee Serradas and Public Comment about Special Board

Trustee Airinhos Serradas again criticized the Cold Spring Special Board for a Comprehensive Plan-Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan at the Nov. 3 Cold Spring Village Board workshop session. On Nov. 4, Philipstown.info News Editor Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong sent him the following e-mail:

Greetings, Airinhos”¦
I’ve got a few quick questions in follow-up to last night’s Village Board meeting. I understand your responsibilities as a trustee to ensure that village/taxpayer money is well spent and also the need as a trustee to be aware of the activities of the various appointed boards. However, most if not all of your attention seems fixed on the Special Board for a Comprehensive Plan-LWRP. Why? Why not direct similar scrutiny to the other boards — ZBA, Planning, Historic District Review, Recreation Commission? Do you propose to focus on any or all of them in the same way in the future? If so, when?

Thanks in advance for your response,
Liz

Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
News Editor
Philipstown.info 
news@philipstown.info
scriptor-exemplar@hotmail.com

While Trustee Serradas did not reply directly to the e-mail, at the close of the Village’s Board’s meeting Tuesday night (Nov. 9), he read a statement. A verbatim transcript of his statement and subsequent comments, and the remarks of others in response, follows:

Serradas: Actually, I have a last thing. I promise to keep it short as possible, so bear with me. Last week, Liz, you sent me an e-mail. I decided to answer it but I’m going to answer it today. I’ll read you the e-mail. Then I’ll read you my response. You said:  “Greetings, Airinhos. I’ve got a few quick questions in follow-up to last night’s Village Board meeting” This was the Nov. 3rd meeting. “I understand your responsibilities as a trustee to ensure that village/taxpayer money is well spent and also the need as a trustee to be aware of the activities of the various appointed boards. However, most if not all of the attention seems fixed on the Special Comprehensive Plan/WRP. Why? Why not direct similar scrutiny to other boards — ZBA, Planning, Historic District Review Board, Recreation Commission? Do you propose to focus on any or all of them in the same way in the future? If so, when? Thanks in advance for your response.”
       As people know, I don’t write short responses. So bear with me. As elected trustees we have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that the village dollars are being utilized in an efficient manner. As stewards of the village coffers it is incumbent upon every trustee sitting here before you to strive towards that goal. Anything short of that is irresponsible. As a best practice, it is widely accepted to audit budgets, particularly when obtaining data in the past has been so limited and forthcoming. When any trustee asks for a budget, no one needs to read, “I’ll let you know as I spend it.” That is not how budgets work. Budgets are projections of how one intends to spend allocated resources. When there is no line item for “legal” on the Comprehensive Plan Special Board budget, yet I continue to see invoice after invoice which at this point is close to $4,000, it tells me the Comprehensive Plan Special Board is working under preconceived notion that it has unfettered access to village and treats this access with a blank check.
       Despite the new budget cumulative of $22,000 there should be a footnote as to how much village has spent in tax dollars on the legal budget line item being marked “legal-special.” This goes to full disclosure. Since when is it a fiscal responsibility a bad objective? Since when is fiscal accountability of taxpayer dollars regarded as a negative? This is utilizing financial best practices which are commonplace in any industry. As I stated earlier, best practice typically includes a budget that shows how money’s allocated by categories and another column that shows money spent by the same categories. As a village trustee and resident it upsets me to see this type of cavalier approach. Using your words regarding my scrutiny of the Special Board, it is currently the only board, other than the Village Board of Trustees, that has asked us to appropriate funds in excess of $5,000, which is a significant amount for our village to conference. With respect to the remaining boards, the Planning Board, Zoning Board, and Historic Review, all have line items for personal services and contractual. Those total $2,000 for the Planning, $2,300 for the Zoning Board, $1,700 for the Historic Review Board, respectively. We do not have a specific line item for the Recreation Commission but we do have a recreation budget. However, as a trustee of the village I am happy to provide the public my views on the subject and why I asked for the information regarding the budget of the Special Board. In return I think it would be interesting to learn how the Comprehensive Plan Special Board members feel about the fiscal management of their budget. It is my understanding that the current treasurer has issues with how it is managed and reported.
       I chose to answer your questions out in public for one reason only. I do not want my words edited, sanitized, or usurped for your own motivations. So when you ask questions it is not clear that you’re asking questions as a resident or reporter. For every professional reporter that I’ve ever encountered that lived and reported in the village with the limits, they’ve always made the courtesy of stating `”I’m asking as a resident” or “I’m asking this as a reporter.” Lastly, for the record I want to note that this is not inconceivable that you, Liz, could have an ulterior motive and a conflict of interest reporting on this issue and for asking these questions, since your husband is current chair of this board.
         I have no further to add on this. Thank you for your time and indulgence. And I did say, Michael, earlier, I appreciate what you’ve done, the reports that are here. I think this is a vast improvement and I thank you for that. 

Mayor Seth Gallagher: I would just say one thing. We’ve gone over this very, very many times in the past and answered these questions quite a few times, and the Special board has done exactly what we’ve asked them to, as far as budgeting. They’ve done an excellent job. As with any other department, any other board, legal expenses have to be separate. So they would never get put to the same line. And this is as per the guidelines by the state controller. So we get advice on that by our accountant and also our attorney, so he bills to just a few different lines, one for regular village board expenses, another one for special expenses that would include litigation, work he does with the Planning Board, Zoning Board, Special Board. And then we have a separate account in the water fund for any kind of litigation or work that is done on behalf of the Water Department. So they’re doing a great job and it’s not a lot of money that they’re working with. But they’re doing, really, a good job as far as overseeing it, really, in the best interests of the taxpayers. And that’s also something: That every single bill that they sign off on comes before this board, including the legal bills.

Thomas Ambrose, resident: I’d like to just comment on this as I commented at that meeting, in that I think in terms of pure clarity, as you state in your thing, unless you’re interested in breaking out the legal costs specifically for every individual board member, the mayor, and every single board, and look at them unilaterally across the all of the budget, it does feel as though there is an unnecessary interest — in terms of a disinterested public member; I’m not on any board, I’m just a member of the public — in focusing on one board’s legal expenses as a non-specific line item. In the greater context of how much money the village is saving due to volunteer time in the Comprehensive Plan Board, it just feels as though if you’re going to start talking about legal fees of one specific board, and citing exactly how much that costs — well, how much did you cost the village, specifically? How much did the mayor cost the village? How much did, you know, the Zoning Board of Appeals cost the village? Because if you’re going to start pulling figures out for one, if you’re really talking about transparency, you need to start pulling out figures for all. And in the context of the greater budgeting process, I feel as though it’s not necessarily the right road to go down. There’s energy that needs to be asserted on other issues that are more pressing for the village than hammering on a board that’s doing a great job and not costing the village nearly as much as it could.

James Hartford, resident: I just want to say, I think, for clarification: You did say that it was cumulative of $5,000 over four years?

Serradas: We typically don’t appropriate more than $5,000. And I gave a listing of what each board is allocated. And —-

Hartford: I’m sorry. It didn’t sound like it was really that much money over the length of the existence of the Special Board. Let me put it in light of the intensity of the work that they’re doing in basically revisiting our village code, our zoning and the outlook of our community for the future. I think, obviously, we need legal guidance and it’s going to be an extraordinary amount compared to the daily runnings of any other board. So I don’t find it to be disturbing at all. I think it’s to be expected.

Gallagher: I think it’s also -— I would just say that we want them to use the attorney. I mean, that’s why I’m advised; every time they use the attorney I’m cc’d on every question. The billing is itemized, you know, referring to each topic. So they’re not — Part of the thing is they are professional consultants that are charging $175 an hour, $150 an hour, and it’s important that we do this correctly. And I think that’s why it is important they have access to the village attorney just as members of the other boards, also. I think that $4,000 is over two years or something like that.

Mike Armstrong, Special Board chairman: The Special Board’s budget for the year is $11,000; that is this fiscal year. And the —- Now it’s being increased by $1,000. Most of that money goes to consultants and to mapping. We’re not paying ourselves to go out and have meals. There’s none of that kind of thing going on. We are extremely careful with every dime that’s spent. And I can’t tell you, we, I, go through every invoice, checking every hour: Is it valid? Is it correct? And I sign off on that. Then you guys look at it and you sign off on that. So everything is very, very closely watched, down to the dime. We know to the — what we’ve got running an ad in the PCNR. We know when we’re running promotional materials. We know what it costs. Everything is being very, very closely watched. There is no waste in this process. It is very, very thrifty process. If you look at what, for example, Philipstown, you’re looking at quarter of a million dollars, $300,000. IF you look at other communities to which our Comprehensive Plan has been compared, you’re looking at half-million dollar projects. Ours is a $20,000 effort, going back including the prior year, the last year. It’s a $20,000 effort. It’s absurd, when you look at the amount of money that we’re spending, literally thousands of hours of volunteer time, doing work that other communities hired professionals to do, and, I’ll say, that this community hired professionals to do in the 1980s. They hired professionals to do the work. It wasn’t a volunteer effort, by and large. This is a volunteer effort; very, very thrifty; pinching pennies, pinching nickels, watching every single dime. And you need to know that. And I’m saying that if there’s anything, if you see somebody out, if you think there’s some money that’s being wasted, let me know. I just don’t see it. I mean, I’m watching every penny.

Gallagher: Well, I think that’s the irony of the situation, is that you are. You’re doing as good a job as anyone can do. And thank you.

Serradas: I do want to comment to Mr. Ambrose and Mr. Hartford. Everyone is focusing on the $4,000. The $22,000 has been since January, not over four years. I am deeply grateful for all the volunteer work, don’t misunderstand that. I’m not — With respect to the $4,000, that if you want to focus on the legal side. I do look at those details. I’ve questioned it in the past. I’ve asked the question, “Why are we asking the village attorney to answer a question on texting? Where is that in the Comprehensive Plan?” Meetings procedures, Open Meetings Laws. I came back from a NYCOM conference. I brought those items. I presented to the board. There are ways that we can save money there, plain and simple.

Mike Armstrong: You’re -—

Gallagher: I just want to say, I’m sorry. That’s -— I find that you can’t get into a conversation right now about specific things like Open Meeting Law and say he doesn’t need to ask the attorney. You’ve asked the attorney about many of these same, exact issues. To say you got the answers from going to a conference we talked about — we just spent $750 to send you to find out about grants. That was stuff you could, you know, get a book or find out from other ways. It’s -— we’re all the time the — If you have a question about a specific item, there’s something that he’s doing, that he’s doing incorrectly: The reason he does this is the board says that’s the way to do it. We need to change the way the board asks any person who is using the village attorney. We have to ask them to change that — We have to change that. The problem is not on their end if there is a problem. And I have yet to see that there have been frivolous expenses. And that should come up within this board when we’re looking at the bills, something like that.

Serradas: When I do bring it up, it gets rebuffed. A week and a half ago, I asked a question. It took me four e-mails to ask a question. My frustration -—

Gallagher: About what?

Serradas: Listen to me, please. My frustration led me to file a FOIL. I don’t know how many other sitting village board members have ever filed a FOIL to get information that should be readily available.

Gallagher: You didn’t have to do that. You chose to do that. Mary was actually gathering the information for you and you decided to file a FOIL. You had several people gathering information for you on the same topic. You get the answers. You don’t like it that other people don’t agree with you about the answers and so you continue to push them and try to twist them into something that is a negative, when actually it’s a positive. You are really berating people who are doing exactly what we’re supposed to do. If you can’t convince this board that they’re doing something wrong, then you’ve got to sort of live with it and move on.

Serradas: That information wasn’t available at the village level. That’s why it took so long; that’s why.

Gallagher: It was being gathered by the village clerk.

Ambrose: I’m sorry. I just need to respond to what he said and the fact that, I believe, if I’m not mistaken, that your profession is as an accountant.

Serradas: Financial and tax—

Ambrose: The dovetailing of what I’m saying is that in the greater cause, time is money, on all sides. So the time that it takes for the Special Board or any board to start digging through New York State Code, as opposed to doing a quick referral, that’s approved, to a lawyer, that’s money saved. Although it’s money spent, it’s possibly money saved. As is the time you spend looking through exactly the nature of every single question that’s being asked of a lawyer versus researching greater issues that might be of a greater benefit to the village in its entirety, as opposed to concerns about the nature of specific questions being asked when the overall accounting is not that great. If it was $20,000; $30,000 in lawyer fees -—

Ambiguous voice: Perhaps you’d —-

Ambrose: Then why are you asking about this and this? For such a small amount of time, it seems, as a resident, your time as a village trustee would be better spent researching and moving on to bigger things than looking into the specific nature of every single question. That’s all.

Serradas: So I should ignore the invoices; I should ignore what’s in front of me? When we have to approve them, I should ignore it?

Ambrose: I’m not suggesting that. I’m not suggesting you ignore anything. I’m saying that the amount of time that I’ve witnessed in these board meetings on this specific issue seems out of caliber and scope in terms of the overall things facing the village.

Serradas: I want to put this to rest more than anyone.

Someone in audience: Then let’s do it.

Gallagher: I’d like to move on now. I think we’ve worked that issue. Then the way the auditing goes, you bring up issues at Village Board meetings. If there’s a problem with it, we try and deal with them. If the board doesn’t feel there’s a problem, we sign off on them. If we do think there’s a problem, we put them aside; we try to figure out, to fix the bill. I’d like to close the meeting because we’re at two hours. And I want to thank everyone for coming.

The transcript is not an official, government document but was made by Philipstown.info, which seeks to provide as accurate a record as possible.

8 Responses to "Transcript: Trustee Serradas and Public Comment about Special Board"

  1. Tony Bardes   November 12, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    Well like it or not Mr Serradas was elected by a vote. He just did not appear there out of thin air to start trouble. I dont see why he is always portrayed as the attacker and demonized. I was not at any of the meetings but have been following what has been writen on this website. From what i can see every time he asks a question its percieved as he is starting trouble. I realize the guy has an abrasive style. But one must keep in mind that he has a successful career managing other peoples money. This is his life. So when he asks money questions i think we should be aware of that. I feel that if the guy is going to be un movable on getting answers where and how taxpayer money is being spent. This seems like a good thing in these un settled times of financal upheaval. So why cant we support someone who dosent drink the kool aid and just goes along with the satus qo of the times. I am sure that there is more to this story that i need to know. And look foward to hearing other opinons. Also i would like to know is this an official transcript because i have never seen one where there are “ambigous voices” and “someone in audience” that are included.
    Tony Bardes

  2. Russell Cusick   November 15, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    As a business owner and registered Democrat, and as an individual who recently spent a year hocking my crappy inconsequential wares in the polluted and toxic little village of Cold Spring on Hudson NY, I had the HONOR of having several wonderful, never heated, and always enlightening conversations with Mr. Serradas. Airinhos is an elected public servant who actually had (and has) a keen interest in what I am about as an “artist” (and I use that term very loosely!) and Hudson Valley businessman. Airinhos is a well educated and open minded individual…a man who asks the tough questions…questions that are not always welcome, in a small incestuous little Village like CS. CS always felt a bit like 7th grade to me…real clicky…kinda like adolescents who never really grew up. We don’t like that business owner…we don’t eat at that restaurant…and on and on and on…it is a very bizarre place, with a few truly WONDERFUL people and spectacular views. Grants…yes, grants…with your water situation getting worse every minute, it is about getting GRANTS and Funding….all the moronic teabaggers….partiers…whatever the heck they’re calling their hateful selves, had better wake up to the fact that SMALLER GOVERNMENT is places like cold Spring on Hudson, means that given the grave water situation….just hoping the government will go away means total collapse and failure of the village….isn’t it ironic, that Airinhos, as a republican, is FIGHTING for a small amt. for grant writing…and Seth “Mr., I prefer CS tap water to Bottled water” was against giving him the measly fee. If you folks in CS are smart, you’ll take Airinhos seriously….very seriously…he is a wonderful human being, a true public servant…courageous…and his heart is in the right place. GO AIRINHOS!

  3. Russell Cusick   November 16, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    “K”…since philipstown.info REQUIRES actual “names” for comments, I think your anonymity is just a very thin and obvious veil for cowardice. Free speech is a beautiful thing, but when people are too frightened to be honest about who they are, and what their views are…it is pretty much just smoke and mirrors…don’t ya think?

  4. Thomas Ambrose   November 17, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    Fascinating that Mr. Cusick has such intense feelings about a place where he neither lives or works in. I am sure that there is a cause for the tirades about our village and it’s “toxic waters”, but it seems odd to continue to spout hatred and distrust for a place of no direct connection.  

    If it’s so terrible and you dislike it so much, you are welcome to go elsewhere. Go to Beacon or Fishkill for services and its water that’s officially deemed poisonous by the state. As a resident of Phillipstown, no one forces you to come to the Village.

  5. Russell Cusick   November 19, 2010 at 12:38 am

    Don’t look at the glass as half empty….Don’t look at the glass as half full….Just shut up and drink what is in the dang glass!

    Mr. Ambrose;

    Au contraire mon ami….Where did you get your information about Beacon and Fishkill’s poisonous water? Allow me to share with you, my new and much treasured friend….If you happen to look at water quality data taken from the 5 yr. testing period 2004-9, you’ll surmise, as have I, that of all the “treated” water systems in both Westchester and Putnam…THE VILLAGE OF COLD SPRING, NY had the highest number different contaminants that the EPA considers to be “Above the Legal Limit”…yes, that is to say that of 198 different “treated” water systems in both Putnam and Westchester…the Village of CS came in at NUMERO UNO…with it’s seven different contaminants (including radiolgicals) above the legal limit (reported at the NY Times Website, as of 11-18-2010)

    Furthermore, the Village of Cold Spring on Hudson came in at second highest for contaminants above the legal limit, for all Of 359 Water systems tested between 2004-2009, in Putnam County (102 water systems) Dutchess County (161 water systems) and Westchester County (96 water systems,) One very small water system in Dutchess Co. tested for more contaminants above the legal limit than the Village of Cold Spring. I’ve spent countless hours on this, because contrary to popular belief, it matters to me.

    Beacon, NY zero contaminants above the EPA legal limit for said testing period

    Fishkill, NY zero contaminants above the EPA legal limit for said testing period

    Peekskill, NY zero contaminants above the EPA legal limit for said testing period

    Tom…I just spent the last year doing business in the toxic Village of CS and my partner and I own property in Cold Spring…Obviously, if you were paying any attention whatsoever, you’re aware that I was raising concerns about the Water Quality in CS, while I was renting business space, and doing business there…unlike many others, I will always put my safety and the safety of others, over commerce…or property values…ALWAYS!

    So,although I do not owe you or anyone else for that matter an explanation, as to what motivates, me….your comment that I have no direct connection to CS, is absurd…My God, when it comes to water, especially…do you really think that the contaminants found in the soil of the Toxic Village of CS are confined to the small village…if you do, you’re wrong! Again, as far as your argument that I have no connection to CS…perhaps you should just let that one go! Let me ask you…has your water in the Village of CS ever been EXTREMELY BROWN? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnrYwk5jLQg

    Well, that is a shame, it really is…in fact it is heartbreaking. Here are some statistics that just might keep some of you up at night…thinking about this data, and why the numbers are so high in Putnam, have on occasion kept me up at night:

    The most recently published “by County,” Cancer Statistics/Data provided by the New York State Department of Health shows that out of the 22 different cancers documented over a recent 5 year period, Putnam County had 7, yes, count them…..7 cancers above the State Average Rate, by 30% or more.

    Did you know that Putnam’s neighboring Dutchess and Westchester Counties had ZERO occurrences of any of the 22 cancers documented higher than 30% above the State Average Rate, during the same testing period?

    Did you know that according to the New York State Department of Health, that Putnam County during said testing period had the HIGHEST rate of female thyroid cancer? Did you know that according to the New York State Department of Health, Putnam County during said testing period had per capita, the HIGHEST rate of female breast cancer for in the entire state?

    Did you know that Putnam County has much higher per capita cancer rates than either county on Long Island? Did you know that that the most recently “by County,” data published by the NYS Dept of Health reveals that neither neighboring Westchester County to our south, nor Dutchess County to our North, had a single occurance of being above NY State’s average rate by 30% or more for any of the 22 cancers tested. However, in Putnam County,data from the New York State Department of Health shows that we are 30% higher than the State average for 7 out of 22 Cancers tested! This data is the most current, and what is available at the NYS Dept. of Health’s website. Published Data was gathered separately for both females and males.

    Below are some of the statistics I was, after several hours or research, able to compile from the NY State Department of Health’s study. I’ve also included a link to the pdf document that contains the data from the New York State Dept of Health’s most recent data:

    Dutchess County-above State rate by 30% or more=0 instances

    Westchester County-above State rate by 30% or more=0 instances

    Putnam County-above State rate by 30% or more=7 instances out of 22 cancers studied

    Nassau County, Long Island-above State rate by 30% or more=0 instances

    Suffolk County, Long Island-above State rate by 30% or more=1 instance

    Maps of Cancer Incidences by New York State County

    http://www.health.ny.gov/statistics/cancer/registry/cntymaps/cntymaps.pdf

    Below are test results for different water systems in our region:

    The Village of Cold Spring’s Water Carriage was designed and put in the ground in the 19th Century…we’re talking well over 100 yrs. old. Said pipes are cracked and leaky, they are in the vicinity of sewer pipes that are not sound…and again, they leak…this is a disaster not waiting to happen…it is a disaster that is happening as I write!
    Continuing to claim as your current Mayor has publicly, that the water is safe (and his preferred choice over bottled water) is in my opinion, irresponsible, and will certainly not work towards getting the Village the much needed funding it needs to fix the problem…If there is not a pressing need…then why would federal or state funding be granted? I know we’re talking a lot of money…but without new pipes, how can the village survive? Band-aids are not going to get it…when an infrastructure as antiquated as that in the village starts to fail…it is a very rapid decline. I think that you all have to be brutally honest about the situation…Personally, I think that in large part, the villagers have been in denial about just how big of a problem you’re all faced with. Time to get real folks, no matter how difficult or insurmountable the situation might seem…if you all do the right thing…you’re on the right side of history, and future generations will thank you for having done so.

    Russ Cusick

  6. Russell Cusick   November 19, 2010 at 1:04 am

    Mr. Ambrose;

    Here is a link I first read back in January of this yr…shortly after water quality data was published by the NY Times and the EWG (Environmental Working Group)
    http://www.beaconcitizen.com/group/publicdiscussionforum/forum/topics/beacon-has-good-water?xg_source=activity

  7. Russell Cusick   November 19, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Mr. Ambrose;
    Furthermore, in response to you assertion that (readers can find Mr. Ambrose’s comment below) “I am sure that there is a cause for the tirades about our village and it’s “toxic waters”, but it seems odd to continue to spout hatred and distrust for a place of no direct connection.”

    I’d be more than happy to share with you or anyone else for that matter, the receipt from my last SCHOOL TAX BILL!

  8. Phil Heffernan   December 6, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    I too feel that the issue of Cold Spring’s water quality and infrastructure repair is job number one. It is a crucial issue with serious health and financial ramifications. Perhaps the Comprehensive Plan Board can provide more research on this subject, as part of the official document that is being prepared.
    What could possibly be more important to the Village quality of life than safe water? We owe it to the next generation(s).