Executive again backs Butterfield with no specifics on county involvement
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Outlining her proposed $145.4 million Putnam County budget for 2015, County Executive MaryEllen Odell Wednesday night (Oct. 1) again endorsed the pending Butterfield Redevelopment in Cold Spring, but without providing specifics on the level of the likely county government involvement or financial investment.
In her approximately 45-minute budget address — a power-point slide show reminiscent of a corporate product roll-out — Odell also cited increased law enforcement incidents and proposed a heftier county police presence in western Putnam, which includes Philipstown. She likewise noted that under her draft, which the County Legislature must review and can change, the county will provide such cultural organizations as the Putnam History Museum and Putnam Arts Council with 2 percent more in funding aid than in fiscal 2014.
Overall, she said her budget reflects a $2.5 million net increase over fiscal 2014’s budget. It stays within the New York State tax-increase cap and the average homeowner with a house assessed at $261,219 can expect to pay $13 more in 2015 property taxes, she said. She delivered her address at a meeting of the Putnam County Legislature at the Putnam County Golf Course in Mahopac.
No copies of the budget, or Odell’s presentation, were available to the press or public, a dearth noted by an audience member who questioned how the County Legislature could immediately follow Odell’s address with a public hearing on the budget when the public had been given no budget data or time to scrutinize it. (The budget was subsequently posted online.) However, attendees – instructed in days preceding the event to reserve their seats – found ribbons clipped to plastic badges to wear around their necks, heralding their support for “One Army on the War on Addiction,” another hallmark of Odell’s speech.
Western Putnam policing
She observed that with the assistance of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) the county had just been declared a High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, in part because the road corridor linking Peekskill and Poughkeepsie and other points between New York City and Albany runs right through Putnam County (and Philipstown).
According to Odell, the budget adds two deputy positions and one investigator position to the Sheriff’s Department. Also, “we’re going to maintain a stronger county presence on the western side of the county,” she pledged, because “the western part of the county is suffering, the numbers are rising, on levels of crime.” She said the number of police incidents there has risen to more than 40 a day “and it jeopardizes the safety of the public” as well of first-responders in some cases.
Odell has previously proposed that the county take office space at Butterfield, which she included in her list of public-private projects to pursue, and said Wednesday that “successful creation of Butterfield will transform an existing deficient piece of property” into something to bring various benefits. “It will create 70 permanent jobs. That helps our families,” Odell said. “It will create 80 to 100 construction jobs. That gets our union families back to work. It gets our private contractors back to work. It also is an increase in our property tax base, for residents of Philipstown and Cold Spring, the Haldane Central School District and Putnam County. And that reduces the tax burdens of the taxpayers — $597,000 gross; conservatively $431,000 net of anticipated expenses.”
Sales-tax income also will be augmented, thereby helping relieve county property tax burdens, she predicted. (The county does not share sales tax revenue with the municipalities in which it is generated.)
Mandates and bonds
The budget message featured a blast against unfunded mandates imposed by state and federal governments. Odell said that “Putnam County supports more than 200 mandated programs,” to the tune of $103.3 million, or 71 percent of the budget. “We can’t continue in this direction,” she said.
She also maintained that the budget represents wise policies in bonding or incurring debt to fund county government projects. For 2012, she said, the long-term debt service figure was $6,088,994 but her administration, in office for about three years, has reduced that to $6,088,817 for 2015. “We’ve held the line with bonding,” she claimed.
Odell seeks re-election this November and her Democratic opponent, District 2 Legislator Sam Oliverio, has often asserted that her administration relies too much on bonds to pay for county infrastructure efforts.
After a few minutes for a break, the County Legislature held a public hearing on the proposed budget. No members of the audience commented, except for one unidentified man who asked whether the hearing would be continued since “we haven’t been able to see the budget yet.”
Legislature Chairman Carl Albano replied that the budget “will be available for review and then there will be another public hearing. Tonight this is just preliminary to get it off the ground.”