Odell decries “attack” on Ailes; town supervisor optimistic
By Holly Toal and Kevin E. Foley
While a $500,000 donation from Roger Ailes toward a new senior center in Cold Spring may be off the table after the former Fox News chairman withdrew his pledge, county lawmakers say they are committed to seeing the project completed.
Ailes and his wife Elizabeth, publisher of the Putnam County News and Recorder, had promised the funds in 2015 for a senior center at the Butterfield redevelopment, but last week said they will give the money to other charities.
“Mr. and Mrs. Ailes said the government approvals to make the senior center in Philipstown a reality took longer than World War II,” reported the PCNR. “The family said they hoped to help the senior citizens of Philipstown but [it] is clear for political reasons their funding is not welcome. Therefore they are withdrawing the money, canceling the contribution agreement and assigning the money to another one of their charities who can put it to use immediately.”
Ailes resigned last month from Fox News after a former anchor there sued him, alleging sexual harassment, and the company launched an internal investigation.
The announcement that he would withdraw his pledge came after an Aug. 2 meeting of the Putnam County Legislature in which more than a dozen Cold Spring residents voiced opposition to the proposal to name the senior center after Ailes, which was a condition of the charitable agreement.
Following the meeting, County Executive MaryEllen Odell told WAMC/Northeast Public Radio she was disappointed.
“I think the seniors in Cold Spring are very upset today to have to wonder whether or not the commitment is going to continue to have the senior center,” she said. “We’ve worked very hard for many, many years to get this project off the ground and it’s really quite sad that at the final stage, all of a sudden, it becomes an assault – a personal attack – on two individuals who have been nothing but extremely generous and very committed … to our seniors.
“And the donation was a personal donation,” she continued. “This was something that they felt very committed to and, quite frankly, it’s a shame and it’s an embarrassment.”
However, Odell said the county is still committed to giving Cold Spring seniors a place to gather and receive services.
“I spoke with the developer yesterday, Mr. [Paul] Guillaro,” she said. “I spoke with the supervisor in the Town of Philipstown, Mr. Richard Shea, and our commitment and our resolve is still there to provide a senior center. We will be looking at the budget. We will be looking at re-scoping the project.”
The county approved a lease agreement with Guillaro in May, with legislators Dini LoBue (R-Mahopac Falls) and Kevin Wright (R-Mahopac) voting against it. However, the lease has not yet been signed, as lawmakers had been working out the details of the charitable agreement.
Under the proposed lease, the county would occupy 6,000 square feet of space in Lahey Pavilion for 15 years at a cost of about $3.5 million. This is in addition to the estimated $1.5 million needed to renovate the space, of which $500,000 would have come from Ailes.
In a phone interview, Shea acknowledged he has spoken with Odell and said he planned to do so again perhaps as early as the day (Aug. 11) he spoke with The Current from a vacation spot. The town supervisor expressed optimism that a way can be found to jumpstart the creation of a county senior center at the Butterfield development.
“My opinion is that things should go forward and stay at Butterfield if the details work out,” Shea said. “We have a project approved and a space approved. No matter what happens, the main goal is to make sure the seniors get a place.”
The first thing Shea said he needed was more detailed information especially about the costs of a lease at Butterfield. “We have to sit down with the county and discuss the real costs. And he said, “ The developer has to be upfront about the costs as well.”
Exploring lease options such as a shorter term at the outset with an option to renew are part of Shea’s thinking as the process begins. He emphasized that all parties– government, business and citizens– need to be open to rethinking things in order to move ahead.
Shea, who serves as the budget officer for the town, said he believed the county would have to find a way to finance the building of a senior center in the leased Butterfield space. He said he hoped some “efficiencies” could be found within the county’s $150 million budget.
Asked if he thought the town might participate financially as well Shea said he did not rule that possibility out and said he thought The Village of Cold Spring might have to contribute as well. He emphasized that Philipstown taxpayers have paid taxes to the county for a long time without getting the center or other services. “We deserve this (the senior center).
Shea added that he did not think the center should be limited to only seniors although they should be the focus of planning. He said he thought use of the space should be open to other community needs such as public meetings.
Legislator Carl Albano (R-Carmel) said he, too, was disappointed that a Cold Spring senior center would be held up.
“I have every intention to see if the county can move forward with this project as I still feel this is a much needed facility for our seniors in Philipstown / Cold Spring,” he said. “I feel the Butterfield site is ideal.… The Ailes offer was quite generous and it would have gone a long way for our seniors on the west side of the county. I plan to explore all possibilities to continue with this project for our seniors on the west side of Putnam County.”
Albano also issued a statement correcting what he called an “incorrect” comment in an Aug. 3 report in the Journal News that quoted him as saying he’d now “be in favor of purchasing a place” for a Cold Spring senior center, rather than leasing the space.
“As a result of the [Aug. 2 legislature] meeting, I never suggested the county seek to buy a building instead of renting from Paul Guillaro,” he wrote. “I did state that when we decided to create a new senior center in Cold Spring some years prior, I would have been receptive to purchasing a building if the circumstance were right. I also stated that no such option was available to us.”
The American Legion hall, where the seniors currently meet, was mentioned as an option, he said, but he did not recall it being offered for sale and “it was determined that the building did not have the potential to accommodate the type of center we were considering.”
“The proposed Butterfield site was an ideal location and I was glad that developer Paul Guillaro offered it to the county for rent,” Albano said. “Contrary to one legislator’s statements, I know of no other potential sites for purchase or rent at this time.”
$3.5 million over 15 years is $233,333 annually. According to County Executive MaryEllen Odell, in November 2013 the annual expenditure was $75,000 (see Aaron Freimark’s opinion piece from Nov. 17, 2013, Butterfield Senior Center? Not in 2014. Freimark wrote: “This payment would be for not only the senior center, but also for space for county offices. Odell mentioned six specific services: DMV, personnel services, tourism, sheriff, women’s resource center, and a senior center.”
Admittedly, I haven’t been following this issue closely, but $3.5 million over 15 years drew my attention. What changed that warrants the annual increase from $75,000 to $233,333? If this isn’t an ‘apples-to-apples’ comparison, please help me understand the differences. Finally, besides serving as a gathering space, I’m interested in knowing specifically what services will be provided in the new space that cannot be provided at the current senior center in the American Legion Hall building on Cedar Street. I’m certainly in favor of providing improved services to seniors. I would just like to understand the specific services and costs.
To answer the question of what services all be provided, on June 29 County Executive Odell told the PCNR: “The seniors will have a beautiful new facility with programs to keep them active, entertained and healthy. Moreover, they will enjoy the added benefits of additional housing, shopping and shuttle transportation as part of the overall Butterfield redevelopment objective. Via the Office for Senior Resources, the county will manage the senior center, which will accommodate up to 100 people. The facility will feature social events, education, computers and access to counseling.”
And, if I understand correctly, it will also be the location of the Nutrition Program which currently feeds lunch to about 20 people out of the American Legion Hall on Cedar Street.
The current payment from the County for the use of the American Legion space is $14,400 a year. Same programs, same seniors as would be accommodated elsewhere. The proposed rent at the Lahey building would be approximately $77,000 per year, or a 435 percent increase. That does not include the cost to the county of renovating the space. There are no new programs planned. The shuttle service is already available to seniors if they request it.
I think that before Supervisor Shea volunteers to contribute money from the taxpayers of Philipstown, he should find out first if that’s the case with all the other towns that have senior centers owned and operated by the County. It is my understanding (and things may have changed in recent years so I’m not sure if this is still correct) that the County owns the property including the facility itself and also that they hire and pay the employees.
Local politicians complain that they don’t get anything from sales tax that’s collected in Cold Spring. The County Executive and legislators say that we get plenty of services and programs paid for by the County instead.
Shea and Merandy should be front and center on this one. They must demand that the County pay for the entire project as promised. At the very least, they should get the same deal as the other towns that already have County-funded centers. They should also be on top of the lease, the costs, any and all agreements.
This is a really big deal for their taxpayers. The concerned and vigilant citizens of Philipstown and Cold Spring have been doing the work that is supposed to done by their elected officials. This includes Ms. Scuccimarra, who should spend half as much time protecting the taxpayers as she does promoting the GOP pols who run the County.
Shouldn’t people in this community be more concerned with keeping a post office in Cold Spring than a center for seniors?