Uncoupling senior center suggested
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
The Butterfield project came before a key Putnam County Legislature committee in Carmel Wednesday night (Aug. 20), prompting a heated, nearly 90-minute debate over the merits and costs of bringing county services to Philipstown and whether to include a county-supported senior citizen center at Butterfield or put it elsewhere.
The expense, or conversely, income from a county Butterfield facility also factored into the intense discussion and to save the county money, two legislators suggested taking a new Butterfield building (when finished) or the American Legion building by eminent domain for county use.
Likewise, the room echoed with insinuations — and denial — of questionable Butterfield presentations in Philipstown by county leaders.
At the meeting, the three-member legislative Physical Services Committee was joined by the six other legislators, while a Cold Spring Village Board member and two members of the Philipstown Town Board participated in the back-and-forth from the audience, which also included two representatives of the town’s senior citizens.
Ultimately, the legislators indicated they would thoroughly weigh the pros and cons, financial and otherwise, of offering some county services in Cold Spring.
A county Butterfield lineup
Philipstown resident Vincent “Vinny” Tamagna, the county’s deputy planning commissioner, launched the proceedings with slides promoting county government leasing of space at the privately-owned Butterfield site to house auxiliary units of several county offices: Personnel, the Bureau of Emergency Services, Health Department, Social Services, Motor Vehicles (DMV), County Clerk’s Office, Veterans Affairs, Tourism, and the Putnam Women’s Resource Center (assisting victims of domestic violence).
Tamagna said a Butterfield county presence would also include a “Philipstown Community Center Office of the Aging” facility with the senior citizens lunch program now operating in leased space at the American Legion building; senior citizen exercise and computer classes, lectures, legal counseling, and other programs.
Tamagna pointed out that western Putnam County (Philipstown, Putnam Valley, and part of Kent), covers one-third of the county and with about 21,500 people contains 20 percent of Putnam’s population. “The residents of western Putnam have a hardship in receiving county services due to geographic limitations,” he said.
Moreover, he maintained, the county loses money as citizens go to Beacon and Peekskill, in adjacent Dutchess and Westchester counties, where DMV and other offices are closer than those in Carmel, the county seat. From the DMV and county clerk offices alone, the county could take in $50,000 in revenue through Butterfield branches, according to Tamagna. “We’ve actually regressed; 20 years ago we had more county services in western Putnam than we have today,” he said.
Overall, a leased Butterfield facility “is literally going to throw off more revenue than what the cost is,” Tamagna said. “There’s no new employees,” because some of those currently based exclusively in the eastern end of the county would rotate into the Butterfield offices.
Such assertions raised doubts on the part of legislators, among them, District 4 Legislator Ginny Nacerino, a Physical Services Committee member, who called for “a cost analysis. When we say no additional jobs will be created as a result of this major change, I look at it with a little skepticism.”
“I think that” when it comes to Butterfield “on its own, the Village of Cold Spring has to make that decision,” said District 8 Legislator Dini LoBue. “I don’t think the county should be coming in and extending government services. I don’t think that’s the best use for the site.”
“It’s going to cost the county money. It’s going to cost more. It’s going to require hiring people,” District 6 Legislator Roger Gross predicted. He said that Cold Spring residents seeking services can go to Carmel, the county seat.
“Maybe we should keep sales tax revenue over there” in Philipstown as well, Town Board Member Nancy Montgomery responded to Gross and LoBue. “What you’re saying is you don’t want to provide any services over there. You need to bring county services over there.”
County Executive MaryEllen Odell agreed, saying that “the question that has to be asked by each of us, even coming out of our own little districts, is: Do the people in the western part of the county deserve to have a convenient and efficient offering of services because they are equal taxpayers?”
District 1 Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, who represents Philipstown and serves on the Physical Services Committee, said that “it’s very upsetting to me … we are totally underserved, and we’ve been underserved forever.”
A Philipstown senior center
A chronic need, all parties concurred, is a long-sought, adequate senior citizen center in Philipstown. They differed as to the best way to get one.
Tamagna and Odell said the county can provide $800,000 toward a Butterfield facility with a senior center — a $500,000 donation from Philipstown resident Roger Ailes for a senior center; $250,000 in a state grant, and $50,000 federal grant.
But several voices called for separating the senior citizen center from Butterfield.
“I cannot believe we have made the seniors wait when we can lease another facility immediately — tomorrow. We have the funding,” said LoBue. “This whole thing has been clogged up because we’ve been waiting for approvals for Butterfield. I want to expand services to seniors. I’m not convinced it has to be done at Butterfield.”
From the audience, Cold Spring Village Board Member Stephanie Hawkins said she “would hate to see the senior center initiative further mired in this discussion about one particular property [Butterfield]. I would like that momentum unhinged from something that is an encumbrance.”
Tamagna and Pat Sheehy, Putnam’s director of senior resources, said no suitable quarters exist. “We couldn’t operate a senior center someplace else tomorrow,” Sheehy said. “We have been diligent and looking around to see what we can do” and the seniors want something other than the present American Legion. Furthermore, she said, “we don’t have to have a space dedicated only to the seniors. We can share the space” for multi-use purposes. She said opposition to a county center at Butterfield “is mind-boggling.”
Town Board Member Montgomery termed the Butterfield option “attractive for everyone,” including “the multi-municipal use” possibilities. “I hope we can all share government space. I can’t wait for this to happen.” Nonetheless, she also told the legislators that despite Butterfield’s appeal, “it’s not the be-all and end-all… There’s a lot of property that’s available with the existing American Legion building.” She, too, told the legislators that “I don’t want services for Philipstown to get hijacked by the Butterfield issue.”
A few years ago the Town Board explored renovation and adaptation of the privately-owned American Legion as an enhanced senior-community-town government center, with no tangible results.
Montgomery also said that if the county wants to expand exercise classes and similar programs for seniors in Philipstown, “I can make that happen tomorrow,” without waiting for a full-scale senior center.
Renting or buying
District 2 Legislator Sam Oliverio, who represents Putnam Valley, urged that the county not rent space, at least not long-term. “I support services on the west side of the county and a senior center. But I cannot support a project that will only go to leasing.” He advocates a lease with an option to buy.
Gross also favors a senior center in Philipstown. “The question is whether we own it free-standing, or fix up the American Legion — maybe take that by eminent domain.”
Similarly, District 9 Legislator Kevin Wright said that if a building suitable for county needs were constructed at Butterfield, “you could always in the future take that by condemnation, for a public purpose.”
Both Tamagna and District 5 Legislator Carl Albano, who chairs the Physical Services Committee and the full legislature, said that county ownership sacrifices the tax income generated by a privately owned-building in which the county rents offices. “If we own it, it comes off the tax rolls,” Albano said.
He described Butterfield as “almost shovel-ready” and thus available relatively soon, as opposed to having the county build its own place, which could take years. Butterfield “happens to be new construction. It’s good for the economy. It’s a good location,” Albano said. “And I do love the idea of multiple use. If the numbers work, we should consider it. The math is really where it all comes out,” showing costs versus gains.
Calls for cooperation
Some legislators also argued that the Odell administration failed to inform them of its plans, while making overtures locally.
LoBue said that some county officials “have been before the Village Board and they’re telling people we’re going forward with this, without coming to us [the legislature].”
“That’s not accurate,” Albano answered.
Gross, too, said “we have never been consulted.”
Town Board Member Dave Merandy recommended they start conferring now. “Work with us,” he proposed. “I’d like to ask you to meet with us. We’re all for this project, but we’d like to be involved in it. I feel — sitting on the Town Board — we haven’t been included.”
At least three legislators welcomed that suggestion. “I like that idea a lot,” Oliverio announced. “And I think that’s fair for the residents.”