County Legislature Backs Tourism Agency Campaign, Creates Transport Council

Also formalizes finances for PARC preschool and Scenic Hudson grant

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

The Putnam County Legislature Wednesday night (Aug. 7) designated the Putnam County Visitors Bureau as its official tourism promotion agency and authorized it to establish a New York State-county-private partnership and oversee an anticipated $477,000 for a tourism campaign under a state program.

In a reflection of history, a large puddle mirrors the West Point Foundry office building. Photo by L.S. Armstrong

In a reflection of history, a large puddle mirrors the West Point Foundry office building. Photo by L.S. Armstrong

The Visitors Bureau, a quasi-county government non-profit corporation, is headed by Garrison resident Libby Pataki.

The Legislature also created a Transportation Advisory Council and in other action, largely procedural, formalized arrangements for $150,000 to keep the PARC Pre-school for disabled youngsters open this fall and for a $125,000 state grant for the West Point Foundry Preserve. The county had already committed itself to aiding PARC and merely acts as a conduit for the grant to Scenic Hudson, owner of the foundry preserve.

Likewise, the Legislature signed off on a bit of legal paperwork for the culvert replacement project on Snake Hill Road.

Tourism promotion

According to a resolution unanimously adopted by the Legislature, “the economic development of Putnam County can be stimulated by tourism promotion.” The resolution notes that the state offers matching “I Love New York” dollars “to counties and regions that fund a tourism promotion agency” and that to participate, Putnam County must submit a proposal this month.

“In order to receive Putnam County’s maximum entitlement of state matching money, it must propose a tourism commitment of $477,000, even though the actual cost of Putnam County will be less than one-third of that amount,” the Legislature declared.

Thus, the legislators agreed to a contract with the Visitors Bureau/Tourism Promotion Agency  under which the bureau “commits to raise funds privately to augment the county and state funding in order to carry out the promotion plan embodied in the 2013-14 tourism budget and to make this program a three-way county, state, and private partnership.”  Under an even three-way breakdown, Putnam’s share of $477,000 would be $159,000.

The measure further states that the county “has an abundance of beauty and natural and historical resources, lending itself” to travel and tourism and “is situated in the midst of a major tourism area close to major urban centers and can bring visitors to its borders by excellent road and rail transportation.”

It predicts that “tourism growth will produce increased sales tax revenue … and will help reduce reliance on real property tax[es]” and assist businesses and boost employment “through the well-known ‘multiplier effect’ of tourist dollars.”

“I feel we’re very fortunate to have Libby Pataki as our tourism director. She’s really bringing new life to the agency,” said District 1 Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, who represents Philipstown, in urging the Legislature to approve the resolution.

Transportation Advisory Council

The seven-person Transportation Advisory Council is intended to “explore opportunities and make recommendations to the county executive and Legislature, exploring all facets of public transportation in order to improve efficiencies, better manage assets, leverage resources, and create partnerships to save dollars and improve transportation services,” according to the resolution establishing it.

The council will consist of a member of the Putnam County Chambers of Commerce, a real estate or other commercial professional, a representative of people with disabilities, a taxi-limousine business entrepreneur, a citizen at large, and two handicapped individuals, one with a mental and one with a physical impairment.

The county government runs the trolley service in the Cold Spring area, as well as regular city bus routes on the eastern side of Putnam. Tamagna has been overseeing efforts to revamp the various programs. “Vinny, you’re doing an A-plus job,” Legislature Chairman Richard Othmer assured him.

PARC funding

As the Legislature took up the proposal to use $150,000 in contingency funds for the PARC Preschool, District 8 Legislator Dini LoBue told her colleagues “this money needs to be released immediately. It’s well spent.” The other legislators concurred, approving the funds transfer on an 8-0 vote.

Othmer linked the PARC dilemma to the challenge of continued funding obligations imposed from above. “These are mandates that keep on coming from the state. The bubble’s going to burst” under the strain at some point, he said. “There are going to be some hard decisions to make.” And given the way the state Senate and Assembly conduct state business, “they should be ashamed of themselves,” he added.

Susan Limongello, executive director of Putnam ARC/PARC, which sponsors the Mahopac school and other programs, thanked the Legislators. “I’m working very hard to get the funding” from Albany going forward “and hopefully pay some of this back,” she said.

Scenic Hudson grant

In another resolution, the Legislature observed that the county acts as the state agent for $125,000 in waterfront revitalization grant money for Scenic Hudson and that no county funds are involved. The grant is for Scenic Hudson’s work at the West Point Foundry Preserve, currently being upgraded as a public historical park.

Scuccimarra described the foundry site, located in Cold Spring on a cove in the Hudson River, as “an amazing area. It’s a huge part of our history” and well worth efforts to enhance it. The foundry made the cannon credited with helping the Union win the Civil War but also manufactured railroad, agricultural, and household items during the 19th century. After it closed around 1911, the numerous buildings crumbled.

Othmer recalled a trip to the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Va., which produced armaments for the Confederacy during the Civil War. “We won the war and our place is in ruins still” while its southern counterpart has been restored, he observed.

Snake Hill Road

The Legislature completed a piece of paperwork in regard to the Snake Hill Road improvements and approved an easement agreement with the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to allow the work to proceed. The work area includes a strip of Hudson Highlands State Park.

3 thoughts on “County Legislature Backs Tourism Agency Campaign, Creates Transport Council

  1. Once again, thanks to Liz for such an informative article about the latest shenanigans and sleazy undertakings of our county lawmakers. It seems that our legislators like to do their dirty work during the summer months while many residents are away on vacation; in fact, they count on the fact that in general very few people are keeping up with local news these days, even electronically.

    The most appalling part of the story was the decision to increase Ms. Pataki’s budget (as opposed to “the county’s budget”) under the notion that she will use the money to bring shoppers, tourists and other outsiders to our county by promoting tourism. Based on what we’ve seen so far, taxpayers can just kiss the money goodbye as it’s become all too clear after the $120,000 bike race that Pataki is clueless about what needs to be done to bring shoppers and other tourists to a county that bills itself “Where the Country Begins.”

    This is especially true in Cold Spring which is the only retail center in the county composed of small businesses as opposed to the Big Boxes that dominate the rest of our commerce.

    Instead of using that $120 grand for festivals and other events that would have brought people here throughout the summer, the Tourism Agency provided a one-day flash mob of Spandex-clad bike riders who flew through town without spending more than a few minutes, let alone a few dollars. To add insult to injury, thousands of dollars were spent on in-county PR that did little except to re-distribute our tax dollars to the most favored vendors.

    Having Libby Pataki as Director of Tourism proves once again the old adage, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Given the dismal economic reality of our times and what local businesses are going through, it is disheartening to realize that we have to depend on the political vagaries of the legislature and its appointees when it comes to our fiscal well being.

    Here’s a question for Legislator Scuccimarra and her colleagues: why don’t you advertise for the job of Tourism Director and see what kind of resumes you get? Is there something in the County Charter that says you can only hire someone who’s politically connected? There are a lot of very qualified professionals out there who would be thrilled to have the position and who would undoubtedly do a better job than the current occupant. They certainly couldn’t do much worse.

  2. Patty, I’m growing a little tired of your continued perjorative references to cyclists and in particular “flash mobs of spandex-clad bike riders.” It happens to be one of the most functional and efficient forms of attire for cycling for extended periods of time, if you choose to wear it. I live in Cold Spring, and yes, I wear spandex when I ride my road bike, because it works.

    You have been very forthright in demanding financial accountability and disclosure from the County. Perhaps you can likewise be forthcoming in providing some solidly-researched evidence for your assertion that bike riders “flew through town without spending more than a few minutes, let alone a few dollars.”

    The Tour de France celebrated it’s 100th running this year. It wasn’t that big when it started. But every summer it becomes not only a national showcase for a great country (read: county) but on a daily basis brings one day flash mobs of spandex clad bike riders who fly through towns without spending more than a few minutes, yet it’s economic value to all of the communities it engages is unquestionably positive. If you need confirmation of that I will be happy to put you in touch with several restaurant owners along this year’s route.

  3. Andrew, please accept my apologies if my posts regarding the Cycling Classic were in any way construed as criticism of bike racers, their attire or bike racing/riding in general. I enjoy riding my own bike whenever I get the chance, think it’s a great form of transportation and wish there were more venues over here like the bike path over on the Eastern side of the County.

    My criticisms regarding the race had nothing to do with the racers themselves and everything to do with the huge cost of a one-day event that was put on by Ms. Pataki and her Tourism Agency. If you read the numerous articles and commentary about the race that detail the cost (including today’s excellent piece in The Paper), you will see that my concern has always been what the cost/benefit was for the event.

    Based on the financial information I obtained through FOIL requests, numerous conversations with other merchants and my own analysis and experience in putting on large events, I have come to the conclusion that the Cycling Classic was just not cost effective, especially in comparison to the former Tour de Putnam which was very successful.

    I have detailed the expenses in other posts and Ms. Pataki herself admits to spending over $120,000, much of which was reimbursed by sponsors. That’s all well and good, but for $120K we could put on events every single weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day that would bring people/ shoppers to Cold Spring on a regular basis. (including a bike race)

    A one-day event like the Cycling Classic is just that – one day; it does not bring in tourists/visitors/shoppers on a regular basis which is what’s sorely needed.

    Again, I’m sorry if any cyclists thought that I was being critical of them or their Spandex (which I happen to love, by the way). It was not my intention.