Emergency services a major concern
By Michael Turton
The Philipstown Republican Committee hosted the second in a series of “Roundtables” on Oct. 12 at135 Main Streetin Cold Spring – the temporary home of the Putnam County Young Republicans Club. The sessions are aimed at hearing what local voters have to say as the November election draws closer. On hand to field comments were political newcomers Lee Erickson, candidate for town supervisor, and Katie Giachinta DeMarco, who is running for a seat on the town board. “We want [the sessions] to be a comfortable setting where people can voice concerns, without being intimidated,” DeMarco said. “We’re here to listen.”
About a dozen people came and went in the course of the evening. Most outspoken was Curt Heintz, a volunteer with the Garrison Volunteer Fire Company for more than 25 years. Heintz spoke at length about what he sees as a crisis in local fire and ambulance services. “I’m concerned about the survivability of emergency services in Philipstown,” he said. The situation could become what he described as a “cascading failure.” “If one [fire company] goes… it will place an unfair burden that can’t be shared by the other departments. It’s an enormous concern.”
Heintz listed changes in local demographics, the poor economy and difficulties in recruiting new volunteers as among the greatest challenges faced by emergency services locally. He also singled out the Fire Rescue & EMS Service Planning Report published earlier this year, also known as the Graner Report, as having, “… done a lot of damage (to local fire companies) in terms of self esteem…It is really difficult to buffer volunteers from that negativity.” He also identified calls to 9-1-1 as part of the problem. “I dreaded 9-1-1. We’re well suited to handle a real emergency – but it [9-1-1] elevates everything to emergency [status].” He said that an aging population is causing serious problems for local volunteer ambulance corps as well. “They’re constantly going out on calls taking people to the doctor,” he said.
Heintz said that while the ambulance corps responded to that problem by hiring some full-time drivers – local fire companies don’t have that option. “You can’t just hire one [driver]. If we have a paid fire department the expense will be enormous. You’re not going to be paying firemen $10 an hour….it has the potential in four or five years to be a major problem for taxpayers. We need…..to perpetuate the volunteer services.” He said that a real challenge for local leadership in addressing the emergency services’ needs is to find a way to communicate more effectively with what he termed, “such a diverse group.” Philipstown resident Dave Vickery picked up on that, looked directly at Erickson and asked, “Are you up to that?” “Absolutely,” Erickson replied.
While local emergency services dominated the evening’s discussion, a number of other issues surfaced as well, including: the anticipated affect of the new traffic light at Fishkill Road and Route 9; the need for more effective promotion of Cold Spring as a tourist destination; inadequate access to the Town Hall council chambers; poor sound quality during televised meetings of the Philipstown Town Board; the importance of recreation programs to Philipstown as a community and the possible consolidation of local school districts.
ODell criticizes Shea
Former Putnam County legislator Mary Ellen Odell, Republican candidate for county executive, briefly stopped at the roundtable after attending a meeting earlier in Continental Village chaired by Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea. That meeting dealt with local residents’ concerns over school taxes paid to the Lakeland School District in Westchester. [CLICK HERE FOR PHILIPSTOWN.INFO’S COVERAGE OF THE MEETING] Odell said that the root problem in Continental Village is not school taxes. “You can’t let them distract over the issue of school taxes. A re-val (re-evaluation of property values) must be done to help Continental Village. Philipstown and Carmel must do a re-val – period,” she said. She was highly critical of Shea for not having initiated a re-val in Philipstown. “The bottom line is assessment is probably one of the toughest initiatives any supervisor will undertake. You really have to have a strong constitution. Do a re-val and you start going in the right direction. There was money [to do it] available two years ago…He [Shea] chose to stick his head in the sand.”
Asked later for his response to ODell’s charge, Shea said “I’ve never known her to come to our town board meetings. I believe her only interaction with Philipstown government has been her attendance at the gun rally. I would have loved for her to stand up at the meeting in Continental Village and tell those people that school taxes were not important—school taxes are why they organized the meeting. It just shows how out of touch she is with our issues.” He said he and the Town Board were moving methodically, receiving broad input on the issue. “I don’t see how she can say it would help Continental Village with their problem if Westchester doesn’t do a re-val also.” Shea added that the money ODell referred to is still available. “It’s from the state and it wouldn’t come close to covering the cost of a valid re-evaluation,” he said.
Asked what he took from the roundtable, Erickson said it was, “…the need to get out and listen to emergency services. If you’re going to set a policy, you need to get out and talk with them.” DeMarco responded by saying, “What I took away … is that communication is the real work of leadership. There were a few forms and examples of how the people think the communication could be improved. But overall, they want to be more informed, they want to be heard and they want to feel like they are a part of the process.” When asked if any Democrats had attended either of the first two sessions DeMarco laughed and said, “I can’t tell them apart. Everyone is welcome here.”
Roundtables will be held at 7 p.m. each Tuesday until the election.
Photo by M. Turton