Also allows solar energy projects on county land
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Putnam County’s Legislature this week endorsed state attempts to regulate the electronic cigarette industry and approved use of county-owned land for solar energy generation.
At their meeting Tuesday night (June 3) in the 1814 courthouse in Carmel, the nine legislators also debated the merits of incurring more bond debt to finance projects versususing dollars in existing accounts. Ultimately, the bond debt won.
Specifically, to regulate electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, the legislature approved three separate measures, all backing New York State Legislature bills to:
- Ban use of e-cigarettes indoors and in certain outdoor public areas.
- Ban the sale of liquid nicotine to minors and require child-proof packaging and warning labels.
- Force e-cigarette sellers to register, making them subject to state enforcement inspections, the same as vendors of tobacco cigarettes, to ensure that no sales to minors occur.
As described in the state legislation, e-cigarettes are battery-powered devices to heat liquid nicotine, also called e-liquid, which provide the user with nicotine and emit a water vapor. An active ingredient of tobacco, nicotine is a poisonous alkaloid sometimes used as an insecticide; it can be severely addictive. According to the state legislation, e-liquids can be harmful if swallowed or if they come in contact with skin and e-cigarettes also are dangerous because the user can inhale carcinogens and other toxins.
“Electronic cigarettes are totally unregulated,” said District 2 Legislator Sam Oliverio, who represents Putnam Valley. An electronic cigarette “puts out a cloud of vapor. It is a plume. And it’s pure nicotine. We don’t know; it may even be worse than [conventional] cigarettes.”
District 1 Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra mentioned the problems society already faces because of illegal drug use. “I’m very happy we’re doing this” in supporting the state legislation, she said. “There are no studies on this, on the health risks” of e-cigarettes. She expressed concerns that e-cigarettes could attract children and become “a gateway into something else.”
District 9 Legislator Kevin Wright said he opposed the first measure because it would endorse a state ban on e-cigarettes in public areas, prohibiting them alongside tobacco cigarettes.
“We’re asking for more regulation out of ignorance, rather than out of knowledge,” he said. “I’m not prepared to say electronic cigarettes are as bad as [regular] cigarettes.” The state legislation would “seek to categorically treat electronic cigarettes — for purposes of where they’re able to be used — in all respects as a tobacco cigarette,” Wright said. I don’t know there’s any body of evidence that makes the medical or moral equivalent that would permit me to support it.”
“All we’re asking for is to have more regulation, more understanding,” District 4 Legislator Ginny Nacerino replied. “Right now there’s no regulation and no accountability.”
The measure passed with only Wright dissenting. He joined the rest in voting for the second and third measures, dealing in part with minors’ access to e-cigarettes.
Referring to the high costs of energy and the repercussions of a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decision backing creation of a new energy capacity zone that will permit prices to escalate, the legislators unanimously authorized the county administration to issue a request for proposals for installing and operating solar photovoltaic power-generation projects on county property.
The county is looking at two Patterson sites, but beyond that toward photovoltaic projects on “any other county-owned property suitable for such use,” according to the resolution.
“This is relatively important because of what’s happening with electricity rates. They’re going up by leaps and bounds,” Legislature Chairman Carl Albano observed. “In light of the new energy capacity zone … we’re going to be hurt.”
The resolution states that these “rate hikes will significantly affect the county’s already strained budget and financial situation” and that the county “is desirous of implementing energy-efficiency and renewable energy initiatives and programs to offset the rising energy costs and save much-needed tax dollars.”
Finances later prompted debate over whether the county government should issue $300,000 in bonds, incurring debt, to pay for repairs at county-owned Tilly Foster Farm.
Oliverio applauded the work but objected to paying for it through bonds. “Bonding is a silent, secret tax,” he maintained. “We’re sitting on an excess of $2 million from our sales tax. “We have the cash to pay for this. I don’t want to borrow any more.” He pointed to “the $11 million in three years that has already been bonded. “That is debt. That is money this county owes.”
District 8 Legislator Dini LoBue concurred. “I can’t support additional debt,” she said.
Their colleagues disagreed.
“I want to leave the bank account alone. I don’t want to touch that money if we don’t have to,” said District 6’s Roger Gross.
“I think there are other priorities we should pay for first,” before using county reserves for Tilly Foster upgrades, added Albano.
The bond arrangement passed, 7-2, with Oliverio and LoBue casting the “no” votes.