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).

At the Putnam County Legislature's Physical Services Committee meeting, Vinny Tamagna presents the concept for use of space at a redeveloped Butterfield complex. (Photo by L.S. Armstrong)
At the Putnam County Legislature’s Physical Services Committee meeting, Vinny Tamagna presents the concept for use of space at a redeveloped Butterfield complex. (Photo by L.S. Armstrong)

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.

Legislative doubts

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.”

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Armstrong was the founding news editor of The Current (then known as Philipstown.info) in 2010 and later a senior correspondent and contributing editor for the paper. She worked earlier in Washington as a White House correspondent and national affairs reporter and assistant news editor for daily international news services. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Areas of expertise: Politics and government

5 replies on “Butterfield Services Debated”

  1. A further addition needs to be included in the article: The suggested uncoupling of the senior center at the meeting, was the work of District 8 Legislator LoBue, who pointed out many, many times during the meeting that had not the Odell administration attempted to include the center in the Butterfield project, the senior center would have been built years ago. Seniors have been denied this amenity, held hostage to developer special interest.

    I believe Mr. Tamagna’s title is Transportation Manager, not Deputy Commissioner of Planning.

  2. Thanks for another great article by Liz Armstrong; the only problem is that after I read her nicely documented piece on the fetid cesspool that is our county government, I feel as if my head is gonna explode. Where to begin?

    It’s hard to believe that in the year 2014, the residents of Put Valley and Philipstown are not only being shortchanged when it comes to county “services” but that we have legislators who are actually trying to justify it by saying we can just make the trip to Carmel. Legislator Gross’s tone deafness is exceeded only by his contempt for the taxpayers of western Putnam and he is unworthy of the office he holds.

    Meanwhile, 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.” Sorry, but how is it that private money plus federal and state grants can become “county” money? Where did these people ever learn math? Almost 63 percent of the funding they’re touting is from one individual — Roger Ailes — and the rest is being taken from the taxpayers from other jurisdictions. Here’s an idea: it costs the county at least a couple of hundred grand per year to run a trolley that nobody ever rides. How about ditching the trolley and putting the money towards the senior center?

    Equally jaw-dropping was Legislator Kevin Wright’s contention 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.”

    Not to be outdone, Legislator Gross chimed in: “The question is whether we own it free-standing, or fix up the American Legion — maybe take that by eminent domain.”

    So in other words, a private developer, who with his own millions of dollars, constructs and renovates a commercial property that could possibly house some county offices, is now in danger of having his property stolen from him by the same county officials who have been lying to — oops, I mean, encouraging — him to build the center for the last several years. Come to think of it, you read about stuff like this all the time, in Third World countries and other banana republics ruled by dictators. It’s just a little unexpected coming from duly elected American lawmakers, even if they are from Putnam County.

    Despite the fact that the county has proven time and time again that it is incapable of running any kind of private business, Sam Oliverio, (who, to the best of my knowledge, has has never owned a business or worked in the private sector), advocates that the county buy space at Butterfield rather than renting, even though that will effectively take the property off the tax rolls. If you want to see what happens with county-owned property and how successfully they spend our money on same, look no further than the fiasco at Tilly Foster Farm which is now raging even as I write this. The legislature has no business trying to run a business, any business. Period. End of story.

    Judging from this article, they seem to have a lot of trouble just governing our tiny little county.

    The senior citizens of Philipstown and Cold Spring do not deserve to be treated like second-class citizens. They have waited too many years for the same thing that already exists in neighboring Put Valley, Mr. Oliverio’s home town. This entire affair is a disgrace on so many levels that I find it astonishing half the people involved haven’t been fired or voted out of office. Then again, considering the cast of characters, perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised.

  3. Thank you, Ms. Villanova, for summarizing the disgusting, dysfunctional, disjointed county legislature. Please bring back the old Board of Supervisors! These clowns have been playing at government ever since the changeover. Some of them think we are in another county, say Orange or Jersey, so the next step should be secession.

    But I would like to urge Ms. Villanova and all other thinking people in the two western towns of this county to seriously think of seceding, and joining, possibly, Dutchess county. Several years ago I glibly mentioned this to a reporter for the Journal News, who was ready to run with it. I was on the Town Board at the time and pulled back then. I wish now I hadn’t.

  4. If the public welfare were the operating motive, then the senior center would have been built with the Ailes donation, which I believe was targeted toward upgrading and renovating the American Legion building. But no, we have other operating forces — the forces of cronyism, corruption and downright incompetence manifested by this administration. To attend these legislative meetings and hear the disingenuous words out of the mouth of Odell and her arrogant deputy, Walker, who, when questioned by Oliverio, bluntly stated that the legislature did not have to know anything of the executive’s plans or approve, is just absolutely infuriating.

  5. I totally agree with Mr. Merante when it comes to the former Board of Supervisors and cannot imagine how that representative form of government changed to an unresponsive County Legislature such as we have today. I collect old books and ephemera and have in my possession a copy of the “Journal of the Proceedings of the Board of Supervisors of Putnam County for the year 1940” and it is indeed fascinating.

    At the time, the Chairman is listed as J. H. Ekstrom from “Tilly Foster, N.Y.” Philipstown was represented by Gilbert Forman of Cold Spring and Putnam Valley by Harry G. Silleck, one of the longest running supervisors in the history of the town.

    In 1940, the Town of Philipstown was paying county taxes of $148,474,50 and Put Valley $112,184.36. The budget for the entire county was under $600,000 and there were quite a number of services provided, especially in the area of public health.

    According to their minutes, the full Board met at least once a month but sometimes, as in January of 1940 when they were re-organizing, they had five meetings.

    All this is of course ancient history, but as I read through the proceedings, it all seems so civilized and intelligent compared to what we have now — a gaggle of power- and money-hungry politicians whose interests are almost totally removed from the those of the people who elected them.

    The truth is that most people know little to nothing about county government in general, let alone the particulars about what exactly their legislators are supposed to be doing for them. What I see happening, not only in Put Valley, where I live, but also in Cold Spring, where I have my shop, is that there is a huge disconnect between the taxpayers and the government they are paying for. Most people expect very little if anything for their taxes and have no idea where the money goes, the thousands and thousands they send every year to the Villages, the towns, the schools and the County.

    If you live in the Village of Cold Spring for example, you are paying property taxes for the Village (including water, sewer, police, fire, etc.), town of Philipstown and County of Putnam. In some areas, residents are being taxed for duplicative service such as policing which is provided by the local PD, the Sheriff and the State Police. How is this affordable and sustainable in today’s new economy?

    Due to an anomaly in the way the legislative districts were drawn, my legislator, Barbara Scuccimarra, is also the legislator for Cold Spring and Philipstown. Based on what I’ve read about her performance, it seems her main concern is getting rid of styrofoam plates and utensils; other than that she seems fairly oblivious when it comes to the $140 million plus we send to Carmel every year to maintain a layer of government that in many instances is irrelevant.

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