Fractious Putnam Legislature Approves 2015 Budget

$64,000 intended for Butterfield rents placed in contingency

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

After a discussion punctuated by intense friction, the Putnam County Legislature Wednesday night (Oct. 29) adopted a 2015 budget of $145,558,490, which includes $64,000 in subcontingency funds ostensibly for space in a redeveloped Butterfield Hospital complex.

The budget tops the draft offered by County Executive MaryEllen Odell by $98,142 but, according to the resolution accompanying the vote, does not exceed the New York state cap on tax increases. The budget passed 9-2, with Legislators Dini LoBue and Kevin Wright opposing it, after expressing concerns about various points.

Legislators Barbara Scuccimarra, who represents Philipstown, and Sam Oliverio of neighboring Putnam Valley, backed it. Oliverio, the legislature’s lone Democrat, is running against Odell for county executive. The budget takes effect Jan. 1.

Before the vote, the legislature split over several items, including library assistance, Legal Aid Society funding, and moving $60,000 earmarked for a transportation consultant’s services into subcontingency — meaning that the county transportation manager, Philipstown resident Vincent Tamagna, must specifically ask for it when ready to employ a consultant.

Butterfield allocation

However, the legislators voted unanimously to relegate the Butterfield money to subcontingency status, with no discussion. Scrutiny had occurred Oct. 15, during an Audit and Administration Committee session. At the committee meeting, legislators objected to the Odell administration’s allocation of $64,000 in a “Butterfield lease partnership initiative,” for six months of rent, starting July 1, 2015.

The Butterfield project remains under review in the Village of Cold Spring, and the legislators said during the committee deliberations that the county’s role at Butterfield is undecided, that the complex appeared unready for occupancy in mid-summer, and that setting aside rent money was premature.

When the legislature voted Wednesday, Legislator Ginny Nacerino reminded her colleagues that the money could simply stay in subcontingency until required for a lease agreement.

Libraries and arts

Providing an additional $7,044 for libraries proved contentious. Proponents of the move sought to boost the overall allotment from $362,769 to $369,813.

LoBue noted that this must be divvied up among eight libraries.

“A little extra money for all the libraries goes a long way,” Oliverio argued, favoring the increase.

“This is one area where you do impact just about every person in Putnam County…” Legislator Louis Tartaro agreed. “I’m supporting this.”

Legislator Joseph Castellano cautioned that “every nonprofit wants the extra money” and it’s questionable to deem some more worthy. Legislature Chairman Carl Albano noted that the libraries had not asked for more. Joined by Wright, they voted “no” on the increase, losing 6-3.

The legislature also voted to increase funding for the Putnam Arts Council by $1,000, or 10 percent — up from $10,000 to $11,000. Castellano, Wright and Albano voted against that, too.

Transit consulting

LoBue advocated moving the transit consultant money into subcontingency, because “we’re paying someone to be transportation manager for $75,000” already. “Now,” she said, by hiring a consultant, “we’re breaking it up in pieces and subcontracting out.”

She sparred heatedly with Scuccimarra, who remonstrated that LoBue made accusations without Tamagna being present and that his oversight of the county bus system had produced significant savings.

“When changes were made in that department, a million dollars were saved,” Albano agreed, objecting to LoBue’s interventions. “You can’t micromanage everything.”

LoBue prevailed and the legislature moved the $60,000 into subcontingency (with Scuccimarra and three others casting “no” votes). They did not talk about the role of the green trolleys in Philipstown in a revamped transit system.

Legal aid

In impassioned tones, Legislator Roger Gross urged the legislature to increase the county contribution to Legal Aid from $805,730 to $828,247, a level requested but not provided in the draft budget.

He said Legal Aid’s quarters lack sufficient room for the lawyers who handle upwards of 90 cases each and cannot confer with clients privately. “It just doesn’t work,” he said. Although used, “the top floor is a firetrap. It’s a dangerous situation.” Modest-income citizens who rely on Legal Aid for attorney services “are your neighbors,” Gross told his colleagues. “These are our folks. And are we going to take care of these folks or not?”

He noted that the county spends considerable sums on Tilly Foster Farm and the Putnam County Golf Course and termed $22,000 a small drop in the overall budget, though it “will come back to us in good fashion.”

“That’s what government is about,” Oliverio concurred. “We need to watch out for our neighbors who may not be as fortunate as ourselves.”

“Everybody deserves legal representation,” LoBue added. “We’re talking about our members of the community, our family. I think this is an embarrassment” to even have to talk in public about providing Legal Aid with sufficient funds to function in decent space, she said.

Scuccimarra dissented, referring to “the huge budget they have right now” at Legal Aid, “over $800,000. And the majority of this comes on the burden of the taxpayers … I vote ‘no’ for this [increase].”

Wright called attention to “a constitutional aspect” of helping Legal Aid. “Part of the important work that agency does is a requirement of the U.S. Constitution,” he said.

Castellano, Gross, LoBue, Oliverio, Wright and Tartaro then voted to increase the Legal Aid appropriation. Scuccimarra, Albano and Nacerino voted against it.

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