Also forces Odell to make department heads available for questioning
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Tackling a long agenda crammed with myriad issues, the Putnam County Legislature last week enacted term limits on its own members, required the county executive to make department heads available for questioning, agreed to hire a consultant to guide efforts to revamp the mass transit system, and approved bonuses to induce county staff to retire early as a cost-cutting measure.
The Legislature unanimously approved term limits for legislators, amending the county charter. A Legislature term is three years. The term-limit measure initially had passed in 2010 but lacked the two-thirds majority necessary for changes to the charter. Under the new provisions, which take effect Feb. 1, 2014, “in no instance may a legislator serve more than four terms or 12 years, whichever is less.”
The amendment treats any portion of a term as a full term and bars anyone who has served the maximum from returning to the Legislature after a hiatus. Thus someone who serves four terms and retires for several years cannot get elected as a legislator ever again. However, the law exempts any current legislator who has served 12 years or four terms, allowing such individuals to serve one more term.
With term limits, “you don’t give anyone a chance to set up empires or get a Tammany Hall thing or whatever,” District 3 Legislator Richard Othmer, the chairman, declared.
Under New York State law, the provision will be subject to a county-wide referendum if opponents of the change – should any exist – provide a petition signed by at least 10 percent of voters (a number calculated on the basis of votes in the last gubernatorial election).
County department head questioning
In another change to the county charter, the legislators approved a new requirement that the county executive – whoever it may be – make department heads appear before the Legislature, if legislators deem it necessary. Specifically, the measure says the executive must “make available to the Legislature or any committee of the Legislature … department heads to advise or discuss any program or issue that currently or potentially affects the operation of that particular department.” As a charter change, the measure also is subject to a referendum, if a legitimate petition seeking one is submitted to the county.
“We have not had problems” with County Executive MaryEllen Odell and department heads, but the requirement will be useful in the future should difficulties arise, District 4 Legislator Ginny Nacerino said, as the measure passed, 9 to 0.
County transit consultant
A bit more dissent arose over spending $50,000 to hire a consultant with expertise in transit operations to help the Department of Planning, Development, and Public Transportation implement recommendations of a new county transportation report, including revision of county bus routes.
“I need clarification,” District 2 Legislator Sam Oliverio announced. “If we have this individual in place who has been spearheading this [study], what is the need for this” consultant? In mentioning an “individual in place,” he apparently referred to Vinny Tamagna, the former District 1 Legislator who, as county transportation manager, chaired the task force that produced the report.
“We just appointed a manager of transportation for $75,000,” Legislator Dini LoBue echoed. If someone must update bus routes and implement the other recommendations, she asked, “shouldn’t that be this person,” the transportation manager?
Othmer pointed out that a civil engineer runs the county highway department but that the department still brings on consultants with specialized expertise to help with certain projects.
“We have a lot of studies that sit on the shelf,” said District 1 Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, who represents Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley. “We need someone, temporarily, who can get this moving.”
After further discussion, Oliverio announced that “I will support the concept” and the hiring proposal passed, 8 to 1. LoBue voted against it.
The Legislature cited budget worries in supporting a voluntary retirement and resignation plan devised by Odell and the Personnel Department. Under the plan, employees expecting to retire or resign this year would be eligible for special payments based on years of county employment. Accordingly, the “incentive benefit” would be $1,000 per year for the first 10 years of service; $1,250 for each year for those employed 11 through 15 years; and $1,500 per year for those with more than 15 years of service. Therefore, an employee who’s been with the county 22 years would get a payment of $26,750.
The resolution noted that the county “has experienced a dramatic shortfall in revenue sources” while “mandated expenses for items such as retirement and health insurance are showing or are projected to show double-digit increases in 2014, expenses that must be paid on behalf of our employees and retirees.” The resolution also said the legislators acted “in an effort to reduce the number of layoffs of county employees.”
LoBue emphasized that the incentive plan “does not involve any people currently retired, and their insurance.”
District 9 Legislator Anthony DiCarlo said the program was aimed at employees with 25 years or more of service.