Butterfield and fire study also discussed
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Philipstown’s Town Board last week took a significant step toward replacing multiple elected tax assessors with a single, appointed assessor. At the June 2 formal monthly meeting, the five Town Board members voted unanimously to have the town attorney draft a new law to replace the one on the books. Currently, the town code provides for three assessors, chosen by public election and exempted from meeting New York State standards. (The law states they “shall not be required to meet the minimum qualification standards established or to be established by the State Board of Equalization and Assessment for the office of Assessors or Assessor.”) The terms of Assessors Gary Ritchie and Anne Nichter, elected in 2007, end this year. Voters elected the third assessor, Brian Kenny, in 2009.
Supervisor Richard Shea said Town Board members had considered changing the assessor role from elective to appointed “and decided to move ahead. It’s an opportune time to do this,” with two of the three assessor terms expiring. “We’ll conduct a public hearing and move it along,” he said of the proposed change. He added that in 2012-13 the town anticipates conducting a re-valuation, a fresh analysis of property values for tax purposes. Switching to a single assessor, who might be a full-time employee (as opposed to a part-time or ad hoc worker) would help the town do the “re-val” itself, instead of bringing in outside expertise, he said.
Butterfield site update
The Town Board also heard an update on Butterfield Hospital plans, and talked about the controversial fire and emergency services study, the topic of a public meeting scheduled for Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at the Philipstown community recreation center in Garrison. Shea also told the other Town Board members, Councilors Betty Budney, Nancy Montgomery, Barbara Scuccimarra, and John Van Tassel, that he is drafting a letter of intent in regard to the town government’s desire to rent 4,000 square feet of space in a proposed shared-government-services facility at the Butterfield Hospital. “That could be a great opportunity for the town, the county, the village,” he said. In a concept under review by the Village of Cold Spring and Putnam County as well as the town, the private developer who owns the hospital, on Route 9D in Cold Spring, would construct a new, multi-jurisdiction building for offices of town, county and village. Shea expressed hopes the complex includes a senior citizens center. “The real drive behind this is to get a space for the seniors. Our seniors deserve that. I just feel, ‘enough talk’, we need to do something here.”
Shea said that the town either must totally renovate the existing 19th-century Town Hall, to make it accessible for the physically handicapped and accommodate other improvements, or work with the county, Cold Spring, and the Butterfield owner to create new quarters. “Either we’re spending money here or spending money over there, he said. “We have this great space there. It makes sense to use it.”
Fire services study
The board got questions from the audience about the fire protection study, but deferred substantive discussion until Wednesday and beyond. At the request of members of the Continental Village Fire Department, the board also scheduled a visit to the department for June 15. Van Tassel, an experienced firefighter and former chief of the North Highlands Fire Department, urged members of the public and fire companies to submit questions in writing prior to the Wednesday session. He and Shea described a several-stage response to the concerns raised in the report, prepared by Ron Graner of RFG Fire Rescue Consulting. “We need to mitigate the safety issues first,” Van Tassel said.
“I want to make sure our services are protected,” added Montgomery, who with Van Tassel has led an ongoing review of fire and emergency services in the town. Agreeing, Shea said that the town also wants to ensure that fire and emergency services function in the best interests of the whole town. However, “I’m not inclined to take on running the fire services,” he said. “I think the best people to do that are the volunteers in the fire companies. We’re not out to impugn anyone’s reputation or hurt the volunteers in this town. But we need to take a look and make sure we’re doing it in the best way possible.” He thanked Van Tassel and Montgomery for steering the review. “It’s tough work and, from what we’ve seen so far, important work.”
“This thing has been more uncomfortable for me, probably, than anybody in this town.” Van Tassel said. Even so, he expressed his optimism about continuing. “It will all work out.”