Opinion: Butterfield Senior Center? Not in 2014

By Aaron Freimark

Roger Ailes speaks about a proposed senior center.

Roger Ailes speaks about a proposed senior center.

Beth and Roger Ailes met with seniors and several Republican politicians on Nov. 9, to talk about a possible senior center at the Butterfield site. I thank the PCNR for posting a video of the meeting online. The video provides at least partial answers to the four unanswered questions I had posted to the Facebook group Better Butterfield.  The statements show that a senior center at Butterfield is unlikely for 2014.

Q1. Would the developer charge the county rent for a senior center? How much?

A: Yes. According to County Executive MaryEllen Odell, the county would lease space at Butterfield (if all goes through as Odell expects). She says the expenditure would be $75,000/year. This payment would be for not only the senior center, but also for space for county offices. Odell mentioned six specific services: DMV, personnel services, tourism, sheriff, women’s resource center, and a senior center.

Odell also committed to continue the $14,400/year the American Legion currently receives, even though its senior nutrition program would move to the new facility. “The county would continue that arrangement. We would not ever, ever discontinue that agreement.”

Q2. Would the rent reduce the money available for services? 

This was not addressed directly. But Odell made several statements that shed light on the financial situation.

Odell said the Mahopac senior center was built in 2004 for $3 million. The Putnam Valley senior center was built in 2008 for $5 million. In 2008 a senior center was proposed for Kent with an estimate of $10 million, but the markets crashed and the plug was pulled. For Philipstown, Odell concluded that “building a senior center for $5-7 million is not a reality.”

Instead, she said, developer Paul Guillaro would build the shell of the building, and Mr. & Mrs. Ailes’ $500,000 contribution would be used to outfit the senior center. Odell says that the DMV and personnel offices would generate more than enough revenue to cover the monthly rent. (I don’t understand how a personnel office generates rent, but would like to learn.)

Where would the money come from to outfit the DMV, personnel, sheriff, women’s services and tourism offices? That question was not addressed.

Also, additional senior housing is planned for the site. If more seniors move in, the county can expect increased demand for senior services. What would cover the increased expenditures? That question was not addressed.

Q3. Without county funding, there will be no senior center. What specific steps are needed for the county to commit money to the plan? Is there money allocated already?

The Village Planning Board is conducting the required environmental review. Then the Village Board must pass the necessary zoning change. Let’s assume these will happen. For the senior center, a majority of the nine members of the Putnam County Legislature will need to allocate funds to the senior center project in the annual budget. Odell said she was “confident that the legislature understands.”

However, the Legislature has already approved Putnam County’s 2014 budget. It includes $5.08 million for the Office for the Aging. A little digging showed that in 2013, the budget for the Putnam County Office for the Aging was $5.25 million. Next year’s budget is a reduction in services.

Odell stated that “the county has already committed to an agreement to lease space in this campus.” She did not say that “the county has committed to lease space,” but only to an agreement.

Notably, in her presentation, Odell proposed a “feasibility study” to assess “Philipstown and other communities that lack senior facilities.” If there is a commitment, why is a study needed?

Q4. When not otherwise occupied, would the space be available for other uses, such as municipal meetings (open government!) or community groups? Or would it be restricted to seniors only?

This question was asked but not answered. If the county is paying rent, then presumably the county would make that determination. Odell did say that she expected 2,500 square feet of space for the seniors.

What do I think? No senior center in 2014.

Based on the budget cut for elderly services, the proposed “feasibility study,” and the outstanding questions about how to pay for parts of the arrangement, I do not believe the county will fund a senior center at Butterfield before 2015 at the earliest.

I believe the Ailes’ pledge of $500,000 is truly generous and heartfelt, and a very significant donation to the community. What’s more, the pledge is seed money that will inspire at least some of the county legislators who have too often neglected Philipstown. But the half million dollars is a fraction of the millions that will be needed to outfit, staff, and operate six departments of the county government. It is still not clear to me when the needed county money is arriving. Not before 2015, to be sure.

I would like to be wrong. I hope someone points out the facts to show that I am wrong. But if right, then the county executive is certainly also aware of this shortfall and delay. I do not know why County Executive Odell left out these important details. I hope that next time she can talk straight with the seniors and provide a realistic expectation of the time and cost.

Aaron Freimark is a resident of Cold Spring.


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