State of the County: Odell Defends Sales Tax Non-Sharing, Opposition to SAFE Act

Talk includes 2014 financial overview; touts Butterfield project

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Delivering her 2015 State of the County Address, County Executive Maryellen Odell last week defended Putnam’s refusal to share sales tax and reveal gun-ownership data and highlighted the Butterfield project in Cold Spring as one of four ventures backed by her administration as a partner in economic development.

In her March 12 appearance at the Putnam County Golf Course, she also discussed final 2014 county finances.

Maryellen Odell presents the State of the County address.

Maryellen Odell presents the State of the County address on March 12.

Like Odell’s 2014 address, this year’s, an hour and 13 minutes long, consisted of a PowerPoint slide show augmented by extemporaneous comments. Also as in 2014, this year’s talk featured a theme — the “Year of the Family,” with the oft-repeated slogan, “Putnam County Is Family, Family Is Everything”; last year it was the “Year of the Senior.”

2014 finances

Odell reported that 2014 expenses totalled $143.3 million, while revenue was $140.2 million. The largest income source was sales and use taxes — $57.1 million, or 40 percent of the total. Property taxes supplied the second-highest amount, $43.1 million, or 31 percent of total income. Departmental revenue accounted for $14.1 million, or 10 percent; other sources provided $1.1 million — 1 percent of income; and state and federal aid of $24.8 million represented 18 percent of total income.

The State of the County presentation showed where the money came from in 2014.

The State of the County presentation showed where the money came from in 2014.

State and federal governments “hand us a bill for 75 percent of our budget but they give us 18 percent,” Odell said, again protesting unfunded mandates — programs and obligations imposed on lower-level jurisdictions — long a county complaint. According to Odell, mandates include various social service programs ($17.5 million), Medicaid ($10 million), the county jail ($10 million) and some school costs ($7 million).

A chart in the State of the County presentation showed Putnam expenditures in 2014.

A chart in the State of the County presentation showed Putnam expenditures in 2014.

Overall, in 2014 of total county outlays, $33.7 million, or 24 percent, went for public safety, a category that includes the jail, Sheriff’s Department and emergency services bureau; public assistance, such as Medicaid and programs for senior citizens and veterans, took $32.1 million, or 22 percent; general government functions consumed $31.7 million, or 22 percent; the Health Department and similar services, such as mental health, cost $12.4 million, or 8 percent; and educational funding accounted for $9.8 million, or 7 percent.

Sales tax

Odell responded to frequent municipal criticism that unlike most counties, Putnam does not return a portion of sales tax to the town or village where it is collected. “If the argument is going to be that we don’t share, I would argue that we do,” she said. As examples of “county sharing” of sales tax, she listed $3.2 million for community college charges that “we took off the towns’ backs”; $25 million the county “floats in bonds so your budgets don’t have a hole in them” from unpaid property taxes in Putnam’s 10 school districts, six towns and three villages; and $900,000 for the Help America Vote Act.

She did not explain her inclusion of the Vote Act, a law that launched a national initiative, with federal funding, to improve election access and voting machines.

Odell also said that of the 8 3/8 percent sales tax, the county gets 4 percent, the state takes another 4 percent, and 3/8 percent goes to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the Metro-North commuter railroad.

According to recent information from county Finance Commissioner William Carlin, every year zip code 10516 — Cold Spring and vicinity — generates $1.5 million in sales tax. Carlin said Wednesday (March 18) that ZIP code 10524, Garrison and surroundings, produces $1.1 million annually in sales tax, based on data for the sales-tax period of March 2013 through February 2014. Thus, $2.6 million yearly in sales tax comes from Philipstown.

Butterfield

Odell included Butterfield in a quartet of significant pending projects undertaken by “our partners” in economic development. She described the four as endeavors “promoting smarter economic growth and development in Putnam County” and an opportunity for “getting union families on these jobs and back to work.” Butterfield also is important, she said, “so the ‘west coast’ can have the services they’ve been underserved [with] for so, so very long.”

Stretching eastward from the Hudson River, Philipstown has been nicknamed the “west coast” by county officials. Odell proposes to place some county offices at Butterfield. Because the redevelopment is being undertaken by a private-sector corporation, how many labor union members might end up working on its construction remains unclear.

Gun control

One PowerPoint slide urged “Repeal NY SAFE, the SAFE Act,” New York’s 2013 gun-control law, and Odell said her administration persists in challenging a court order to disclose public records on handgun ownership by residents who did not invoke a SAFE Act provision and “opt out” of disclosure. The Journal News requested information on gun owners who did not seek confidentiality, and the paper sued the county when it refused to divulge it.

Putnam County lost a lower court ruling, filed an appeal with the Appellate Division and awaits that decision. “We are committed” to carrying on with the effort “should the court rule against us,” another of Odell’s slides announced. In ad-libbed remarks, she emphasized the point: “We will continue to fight and defend the Second Amendment.”

Images and video courtesy Putnam County

8 thoughts on “State of the County: Odell Defends Sales Tax Non-Sharing, Opposition to SAFE Act

  1. Isn’t Odell wonderful?! She says the “county takes the burden of community colleges off the back of the town.” That’s because other counties have their own community colleges. But we have a golf course and horse farm, instead. And every other county covers delinquent taxes until they are settled. Thanks M.E.! And it is too bad that the county is doing what every other county is doing for HAVA. But I wonder how much the county is spending on defending their absurd position regarding gun safety. Hmmmmm!

  2. We are all looking for ways to generate more revenue so we can pay for the services we desperately need and also in the process lower taxes so people are not forced to move or worse do without essential needs like adequate heat and medicine. Well then, why won’t the county have a discussion at least about the excess sales tax taken in each year that is not part of the budget? If the towns could receive back a portion of this excess unplanned-for money, maybe there would be more incentive and try to generate even more sales tax revenue? Not wanting to even discuss the matter with each town is not the way to seriously look for ways to improve conditions for the people of this county which is our primary function as public servants.

  3. I find it rather amusing that in over an hour’s worth of Mary Ellen’s “State of the County” presentation this publication chooses to highlight the County’s opposite to the draconian, poorly written, poorly thought-out and frankly ineffective Un-SAFE Act. If this publication was truly doing its job of objective investigative reporting it would applaud this county’s position in opposing the Un-SAFE Act and support the county’s opposition to the request by the Journal News for a list of handgun owners in the County.

    The ONLY purpose for obtaining that list is to harass legitimate, lawful firearm owners and to potentially expose them to criminals by providing a “shopping list” for criminals, terrorists and other criminal mutants. This action by the Journal News endangers everyone in the county, not just the licensee. I applaud the County Executive, the present and former County Clerk, the Sheriff, and District Attorney for their opposition to the request.

    Putnam and other counties have bigger issues to deal with then the Un-SAFE Act which is placing an unnecessary burden on local governments. The big secret is that the cost of enacting this law is millions of dollars in lost state aid to each school district and each county, that could be used to genuinely help the children and other citizens of this State.

    Once again I applaud County Executive Odell and the other Putnam County officials for concentrating on the important issues facing the citizens, while opposing unjust laws and clearly antagonistic requests for exposing personal firearm information.

  4. And wouldn’t it be nice if it were true that a portion of of our money we put into the NY State Lottery actually went toward funding our schools? Underfunded teachers and schools, Cuomo! I like the way you said under the state’s laws you could not accept the basket of apples the teachers left at your doorsteps in Albany.

  5. Residents of Philipstown are naturally concerned about Ms. Odell’s comments about the SAFE act, but as is clear by the other comments posted above, the greater concern about her comments is what we see in her apparent unwillingness to share sales tax revenue equitably with towns who generate it.

  6. Here’s an example of why it’s important for Putnam County to provide easy access to information about gun ownership in our communities:

    When our son was a toddler we needed (like most other families) quality childcare so both of us could work. We found a woman who lived down the street from us who cared for young children in her home along with her own youngsters.

    Things seemed fine for a while, until I came to pick our son up early one day. He was nowhere to be seen and I asked the provider where he was. She answered “Oh, he’s downstairs playing with Joey in the den.” I went down to their den to find the two boys playing rambunctiously.

    On every surface in this den were magazines devoted to hand guns of one form or another. Pictures on the walls attested to the family’s fondness for handguns — not hunting rifles, mind you.

    I asked our provider if there were handguns in the house. “Of course” she replied, “my husband collects them.”

    “Where are they stored? Are they loaded? Are they locked away? Is the ammunition locked away separately from the firearms?”

    “I don’t know” she replied, “That’s my husband’s hobby.” He takes care of all that.”

    My three-year-old was being cared for along with four other toddlers in a home loaded with firearms and the caregiver had no idea where they were or if they were stored safely. The children in this home were allowed free range to play anywhere and the caregiver did not have her eye on them at every moment.

    We removed him from the situation immediately and never went back.

    These were not bad people, but they were unaware of the danger they put other parents’ children in on a daily basis and seemed rather unconcerned about it as well.

    If you’re paying attention, there’s not a week that goes by where some child is not killed or injured due to access to improperly stored handguns. CDC statistics show that 20 minors per day are hospitalized or killed from firearms accidents. That’s 7,300 children per year — more than twice the number killed in the 9/11 attacks.

    We fought two wars in response to that one horrific act. If something else was maiming our children at the rate of 7,300 per year we’d outraged and do something about it.

    Yet Ms. Odell seems unconcerned and fights any law that will help keep our children safe. She spends our tax dollars to doing it too. Ms. Odell — not one more!

  7. Ms.Odell’s un-Republican spending orgy on the Putnam Golf Course and Tilly Foster Farm, through a combination of raiding the East of Hudson Watershed funds, the reserves and bonding, have not produced the financial bonanza that she and her propaganda-in-chief deputy, Walker, foisted on a gullible public. She has destroyed an historic icon of the Town of Southeast; thumbed her nose at residents’ surveys and repurposed the Farm to extinction. And now she refuses to share sales with the towns after Walker came to the Town of Southeast and pressured the Town Board to accept a project code change so that the county could grab the sales taxes for her pet projects. If you think Butterfield is a minefield, come to Southeast.

  8. I too live in what used to be called the “Wild West” — the underserved towns of Putnam Valley and Philipstown, and as far as the idea of giving the incompetents who run my town even more money to waste by sharing sales tax, I am 100% against it. Here’s a general rule when it comes to government, whether state, federal or local: the more you give them, the more they spend and increase the size and scope of their bureaucracies.

    There is absolutely no incentive for a department to lower expenses; they are told “use it or lose it.” When did your town supervisor or mine ever tell their department heads that they have to cut their budgets by 10% across the board? Yet that is what many of us have to do in our own lives as we struggle to pay ever increasing property taxes thanks for the inefficiencies and vagaries of the people who are running things.

    I am no fan of County government, as that too has ballooned over the years to where we have over 600 of the highest paid employees in the Hudson Valley. But I can tell you that the line on my tax bill for my share of the County services is the smallest amount I pay.

    Not only that, but thanks to a prior town board that was enlightened enough to abolish our PD, my town is saving millions on police protection that is now amply provided primarily by the County Sheriff Dept. and the State Police. By the way, the taxpayers of Philipstown/Cold Spring are also paying for and receiving these services in addition to the cost of its own local PD that takes a big chunk of the CS budget.

    Those who complain about not receiving their “fair share” of sales tax revenue fail to realize how much better it is for all of us not to have to pay those mandated costs through our property taxes! Take a look at those budget numbers presented by MEO and be glad that our property tax burden is being reduced significantly by tourism, people buying cars and other items that provide a huge chunk of the money that has to be raised every year. If we did not have sales tax to pay the cost of county services, our property taxes would skyrocket and be totally unsupportable.

    Finally, if the residents of Put Valley and Philipstown have a problem with our horrible treatment by the Legislature which is composed primarily of representatives from the East, then what is needed is to demand more from our own representatives, Ms. Scuccimarra and Mr. Gouldman, neither of whom seems capable of playing the political games necessary to bring home their share of the bacon. (Both of them, by the way, are members of the ruling GOP majority that controls Putnam, which makes it all the more surprising that they can’t figure out how to activate their club membership.)

    Ms. Scuccimarra seems to think it more important to get rid of plastic utensils than to drive much needed money to her own Village of Cold Spring that could use some dedicated funding for its many needs. Example: maybe request increased Sheriff’s patrols that could offset some of the hours of the Village PD. Or how about getting some extra money from the County Highway Dept. for the Village?

    The point is that there’s about $150 million bucks of OUR money in the pot, and the only way we’re ever going to get our fair share is if we the people put pressure on those we elect to do their jobs. That means that NO legislator should feel they have a lifetime job once they get elected. If they can’t do what needs to be done for us, then vote ’em in and vote ’em out. Otherwise, all of this is just talk and commentary on a computer screen, not a real life solution to our problems.