Issues about costs and leasing versus owning
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
A routine report to a legislative committee in Carmel Monday night (July 28) sparked a spirited discussion over a Putnam County presence at a redeveloped Butterfield Hospital site, with legislators questioning the virtues of leasing office space versus outright ownership and the costs of bringing county services to Cold Spring.
The interaction at the Economic Development Committee meeting followed an update by Meghan Taylor, president of the Putnam County Economic Development Corp., on recent submissions for New York State Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) grants. Taylor noted that three “priority project” applications came from Putnam County.
Of those, two involve Philipstown projects: the Butterfield redevelopment, planned by Butterfield Realty LLC, led by developer Paul Guillaro, and the non-profit Therapeutic Equestrian Center, which uses horseback riding to assist those suffering from medical or emotional problems and wants to develop a “sensory” trail through the woods.
If successful in his application, exactly how Guillaro might use a state grant remains unknown. Currently on vacation, he was not available for comment. During a phone conversation with Philipstown.info Wednesday (July 30), Taylor said that potential CFA grantees “apply as an overall project” for CFA aid and the different state government departments fund things that fit their missions. As an example, she said that the state parks office might help with creating a small public park like that envisioned for part of the Butterfield property.
Businesses, charities, and local governments all can receive economic and community development grants under CFA auspices. Overall, the CFA “is a very competitive process,” Taylor informed the Economic Development Committee, chaired by District 1 Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, who represents Philipstown.
Mention of Butterfield drew the attention of District 6 Legislator Roger Gross, a committee member. “The Butterfield project — is that a go now?” he asked. “I know there was a lot of trouble with the [Cold Spring] Planning Board, the mayor, and a lot of frictions.”
“It’s a process, but it’s moving forward,” Taylor answered.
Guillaro’s concept includes an intergovernmental “municipal” building, for offices of the Village of Cold Spring, Town of Philipstown, and Putnam County – all of which have yet to commit to taking space – with room for a senior citizen-community center like those the county provides elsewhere. At present, a limited county program for Philipstown senior citizens operates in makeshift quarters in the American Legion.
County Executive MaryEllen Odell has been a consistent advocate of county occupation of Butterfield space, testifying in a November 2012 Cold Spring public hearing in favor of a zoning change to accommodate the redevelopment. Writing to the legislature in September 2013, she proposed that the county take about 5,000 square feet of Butterfield space for branches of the clerk’s and personnel offices, the Putnam County Visitor’s Bureau-Tourism Promotion Agency, and the Economic Development Corp., “as well as a modern senior center” for Philipstown. This year in her spring State of the County address she declared that in her administration “we believe in Butterfield,” as a place for both a senior center and auxiliary county offices, predicting that the latter “will save taxpayers money and generate revenue.”
Guillaro also is talking with the U.S. Postal Service about locating a Cold Spring-10516 post office at Butterfield.
Owning, not leasing
“I’ve always been of the opinion we need a senior center there,” District 2 Legislator Sam Oliverio said. Oliverio, Democratic Party candidate for Putnam County executive (opposing Republican incumbent Odell) represents Putnam Valley, which borders Philipstown. Nonetheless, Oliverio emphasized, “I will not support a lease” at Butterfield without an option to buy, because “great mischief happens with leases. Who’s to say the price is not tripled or quadrupled” when the initial lease expires and a new one must be negotiated, he wondered. Conversely, a lease that allows later purchase of a facility makes sense, Oliverio maintained. “I hope that’s what we pursue. Otherwise, I cannot with a clear conscience support this project.”
With a lease, “I think we have to have a lot of guarantees before we enter into anything substantive,” Scuccimarra responded.
“I want the guarantee to buy that space,” Oliverio shot back.
Gross observed that “we really haven’t discussed it [Butterfield] as a legislature.” Moreover, he cautioned (without elaborating) that “the history of the county going over there [to Philipstown] is not good. The cost is going to be there. Whether we say it or not, you’re still going to need other people to run the DMV and health [department] here” in Carmel. “And I’m not really committed” to a county presence at Butterfield, he added. “You’re talking like it’s about to happen. But there’s a lot of discussion that’s got to take place.”
District 9 Legislator Kevin Wright, another Economic Development Committee member, said that during a briefing on Butterfield several months ago, “I received assurances that no part of it is underpinned by a commitment from the county to do anything.”
“Good!” Comments arose from the bench occupied by members of the legislature not on the committee. “As it should be!”
Facts and figures
Scuccimarra said the August meeting of the legislature’s Physical Services Committee would feature a Butterfield presentation. “So we’ll have all the numbers and all the figures … and go through the right steps,” she said.
Presumably, such data would include not only the expense of putting various county offices at Butterfield but the costs of keeping them in aging Carmel structures and the revenue lost from Putnam residents who do their government business in nearby Beacon (in Dutchess County) or Peekskill (Westchester County) instead of Carmel – 20-30 miles by car from Philipstown and, unlike Beacon and Peekskill, not served by Metro-North trains.
Scuccimarra said Wednesday that some of the reaction Monday night “bothered me a little” but that “I think once we have the presentation in August it will put everybody’s mind to rest.” Time constraints exist if the county wants to move ahead soon with offices at Butterfield, she said. “We have to put it in the budget this year,” and county budget-setting occurs in the fall.
Oh dear, the county might have to spend some money serving the West Coast here? What? Are we second-class citizens? For many in this area simply getting to the Carmel Center of Everything is costly and difficult. If the county doesn’t want to spend dollars on us, maybe we should start keeping our tax dollars on this side of the mountain. Yikes.
I was present at the meeting and not once were actual figures cited for either relocating offices to Philipstown or retaining them in Carmel. Legislator Scuccimarra and the County should provide the residents with exact figures and not speak in generalities as to revenue gained or lost.