Scope of improvement to athletic field and rent for Depot scheduled for more discussion April 11
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Members of the Philipstown Town Board and the public last Thursday night (April 5) learned that – if all goes well — Philipstown should receive $1.7 million in FEMA funds for last year’s storm damage, the largest outlay for any Putnam County town. Meeting in their formal monthly session, board members also took up two perhaps unexpectedly contentious issues, repairs to the field at Philipstown Town Park and higher rent for The Depot Theatre. The board deferred any action on either until Wednesday, April 11, at a workshop set for 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall.
FEMA (formally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency) so far has supplied Philipstown with $50,336 for work on seven repair projects, Highway Superintendent Roger Chirico announced. About another 30 applications await FEMA decisions, including two or three that the agency disapproved and deserve reconsideration, Chirico and Philipstown Town Supervisor Richard Shea explained. FEMA pays 75 percent of damage repair costs on accepted projects and New York State pays another 12.5 percent, leaving municipalities to cover the remaining 12.5 percent of expenses.
“The whole FEMA issue was a huge amount of work,” for the Highway Department in particular, Shea said. “We had great success. FEMA said of the towns we’ll be the largest recipient of funding [county-wide]. There’s potentially $1.7 million coming back to Philipstown through FEMA, give or take. We’ll see how it works out. We are going to wrangle with them a little bit” over the projects denied funding, he added. “There’s some substantial money there.”
Making an unusual personal appearance before the board, Chirico said that one of the disputed applications involves work along a particularly historic section of Indian Brook Road and that the town would confer about it with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. Shea added that “all in all, it was a good experience” working with FEMA staff. “They put in a lot of hours here.”
The Indian Brook area returned to the agenda when Jerry Albanese addressed the board about series of problems, including non-removal of dead trees and brush, graffiti, and trash. “The devastation is just overwhelming and we’re asking the town to do something about it … to bring back what used to be an extremely beautiful, idyllic road to live on,” before the storms, Albanese told the board. “There’s a huge amount of fallen branches,” which he said he and other volunteers would tackle at a clean-up on Saturday, April 14. He asked that the town highway department remove the debris after the volunteers collected it. Chirico agreed to talk to the residents about their various concerns. Albanese also expressed frustrations with vandalism, such as spraying of graffiti, which he termed “a major problem” and “visual blight,” and illegal littering, trash dumping, and parking near the waterfall or under the bridge. “We’ll talk to the sheriff and try to get some extra patrols down there,” Shea promised. Councilor Nancy Montgomery suggested another measure, too — month-long use of a security camera to identify the culprits.
The New York State Department of Transportation’s choice of color schemes got attention when Albanese said that DOT intends to paint the bridge “a bright, shiny red. This is next to Indian Brook Falls, in a beautiful, pristine area,” he objected. The bridge has been undergoing repairs. [See Indian Brook Gets a Facelift]
Turning to Recreation Department matters, the board took up a draft request for proposals for improvements to the Town Park’s north field and its irrigation and parking. What might have been a routine RFP sign-off became a contentious issue when Garrison resident Joe Regele raised questions about the work and level of public input, and another resident, Lee Erickson, suggested the board take additional steps to notify town residents of discussions about the field.
“Usually I’m looking for some more fiscal responsibility” when bringing issues to the board, Regele noted. This time, he urged the town to make more sweeping improvements to the field than the draft RFP seeks. “I’m very much in favor of improving the fields. I think this is an opportunity to do it right and do a better job.” The RFP is inadequate, he said. “I think the scope is misguided and really shortsighted.” Board members protested.
Zeroing in on the word “short-sighted,” Councilor Dave Merandy objected vigorously. “I personally take that as an insult. I’ve been working on this for a year or so,” with the town-wide, inter-jurisdictional panel studying the condition of athletic fields throughout Philipstown. “To say that this is shortsighted is to say we weren’t really doing our job,” Merandy said. He served as Haldane School Board president before running for Town Board last November.
“’Short-sighted was a poor choice of words,” Regele acknowledged. But the north field work planned “is not providing what we need,” he said. Among other things, he advocated use of synthetic turf instead of grass and proposed private fundraising to help pay for “a much larger effort” than envisioned. “I understand that the budget is a concern, but I think that by limiting of the scope of the proposal we’re going to spend a bunch of money and we’re not going to get what the community needs,” Regele argued.
“We can’t raise private funds as a Town Board,” Montgomery replied. “All we can do is raise taxes, and we don’t want to do that.” She also said Regele seemed to disparage the level of support of the Friends of Philipstown Recreation, and “I find it disrespectful.” A citizens group, Friends of Philipstown Recreation raises money to help underwrite Recreation Department programs, including use of parks.
“We don’t want to take on additional debt” for the north field, Supervisor Shea interjected. Shea also stated that “there has been a tremendous amount of public input” about Philipstown athletic fields. “Nobody can dispute that.” At the north field, what the town intends “is almost like a maintenance issue at this point. We need to do something so we can have at least one field up and running.” Moreover, he added, “this isn’t the end of the discussion.”
Depot Theatre Rent
A rent increase for The Depot Theatre also prompted concern. The town has been paying $6,000 in annual rent to Garrison’s Landing Association Inc., which owns the building, Shea said. Now, the Landing Association seeks $7,000 in rent, partly to pay for work on the premises. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable,” Shea said.
Montgomery observed that much of the work on the old depot has been done by theater volunteers; she questioned the nature of the upkeep the Landing Association now foresees. While not opposing the rent increase, she proposed that before the theater pays more, the landlord should address the landing’s parking inadequacies.
“I don’t think they have to,” Merandy put in. “I see your point, but I really don’t think we have much leverage.”
“I’m not sure how you provide more space for parking there,” Shea said. The landing is largely a 19th-century creation, with train tracks on one side and Hudson River boat dock on the other. For the town, Shea proposed, “the options are to concede to the rent increase or think about getting out.”
The board took no action and agreed to consider the matter again at its April 11 workshop.
The suggestion was made at this Town Board meeting to create and send a mailing to all Philipstown residents to apprise us of the progress of the fields project. I do not believe this is a good use of town funds, and I am sure the Town Board can spend its time and our money more effectively on just about anything else. The project has been well advertised and reported through both this paper and the PCNR, both Haldane and Philipstown Recreation have documents available on their websites for the public to see, the sports groups have reached out to their members, there have been well-attended public forums. To suggest that this project has not been well publicized is ludicrous. The citizens of Philipstown may not be aware of all the details, but they can easily find out for themselves without asking the Town to spend money on a mailing campaign.
Furthermore, this fields project has seen perhaps the strongest participation of any endeavor in Philipstown. Just about anyone who has any involvement with the use of the fields has had a conversation about the fields. The project enjoys the full participation of the Fields Committee, which includes representatives from the Recreation Department, the Town, both schools; several travel team leagues and a booster club. Many others have also have weighed in, and while there may exist some differences of opinion about the details, the project enjoys wide support from many groups who make use of town fields. Fundraising efforts are already underway, and the public is still welcome to participate in the planning process. The best way to do this is to get in touch with Amber Stickle at Philipstown Recreation, or Tom Cunningham at Haldane.
Our Town needs every nickel—let us not waste them on unnecessary mailings.