County legislator says lease agreement was discussed openly for months
By Michael Turton
Cold Spring Mayor Dave Merandy is urging residents to “pay close attention” to ongoing plans to establish a new senior citizen center as part of the Butterfield redevelopment project.
The initiative stalled last week when Garrison resident and former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and his wife Elizabeth withdrew their pledge of $500,000 toward construction of the center. The Ailes’ decision came after the Putnam County Legislature tabled an agreement that would have had ACI, a non-profit the Ailes established, oversee the building of the proposed 6,000-square-foot center in the Lahey Pavilion in space leased by the county from developer Paul Guillaro.
At the Aug. 9 meeting of the Cold Spring Village Board, Philipstown town board member Bob Flaherty reported that Putnam County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra had assured him that the project is moving forward. But in a statement at the end of the meeting, Merandy raised several questions about the project.
The mayor was critical of the tabled agreement and of the Putnam County Legislature for its lack transparency in drafting it. “A lot of this is a mystery to everyone,” he said. “For people who believe in the open meetings law, there should be some concern. Negotiating doesn’t have to held in public, but I think before terms of an agreement are actually voted on the public should see it. I think they [the legislature] are trying to do a runaround on laws which is a little ironic since they are a legislative board.”
The public was unaware of the terms of the proposed agreement until Journal News columnist David McKay Wilson revealed its contents in an article published just prior to the Aug. 2 meeting of the legislature. At Tuesday’s meeting, Merandy urged residents to write to Putnam County legislators, asking them “to make that agreement public. From what’s been written [in the media], this is a very bad agreement. “
Merandy also questioned the potential cost of the project, which the tabled agreement estimated at $1.5 million. “This agreement could balloon to $4 or $5 million,” he said, without indicating the source of that increased cost estimate. The mayor acknowledged that the project will be paid for by Putnam County but added, “That’s our money. It’s coming from us from our taxes and everyone should really pay close attention to that.”
He called upon local elected officials to hold the county legislature accountable. “It’s our responsibility — the town boards — to put pressure on (the legislature) to show their constituents where that money is going.”
The possible loss of a $250,000 grant from the New York State Dormitory Authority also has to be considered, Merandy said. That funding, which had been supported by State Assemblywoman Sandy Galef and State Senator Sue Serino, has been called into question because the proposed agreement contained no language requiring contractors to pay workers the “prevailing wage.”
“Everyone wants to see a senior center,” Merandy concluded. “But we’ve got to know what the costs are and we’ve got to know what we’re getting – and we really have no idea what we’re getting.”
Contacted by The Current, legislator Scuccimarra summed up the situation very differently. “It was unfortunate to lose the Ailes’ generous contribution… but I’m hoping [the project] won’t be delayed much,” she said. “We have to re-scope the project a bit but hopefully it will still be right on target.”
The District 1 legislator took umbrage with Merandy’s comments. “I totally disagree” with the mayor, she said. “The lease agreement is a good one. It’s been discussed for six months at every meeting of the Physical Services Committee,” which are open to the public. “It was discussed ad nauseum,” she said.
Scuccimarra also disputed the mayor’s claim that the cost of the senior citizen center could increase to more than $4 million. “I don’t know where he got that figure,” she said. “With the Ailes’ money the total cost was about $1.5 million.” [Editor’s Note: The figure apparently is a calculation that includes estimated property taxes that would be paid by the county during the 15-year agreement.]
She downplayed any potential loss of Dormitory Authority funding, explaining that with the withdrawal of Ailes’ contribution, which she pointed out was private money, the situation has changed. “Of course we will abide by Wicks Law,” along with paying prevailing wages and other legal requirements of publicly funded projects, she said.
In other business …
- The Village of Nelsonville Planning Board will act as lead agency for the environmental review of a proposed 10-acre, three-lot subdivision at James Pond. The property, previously owned by the Haldane Central School District, has been sold to a private owner. Two lots will be developed as residences while the lot that includes James Pond will be used for educational purposes.
- Trustees approved the low bid of $138,165 by East National Water LLC for the installation of cellular water meters. The Cold Spring water system also serves Nelsonville and includes approximately 890 meters.
- The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is expected to sign off on completion of coal tar remediation at the Cold Spring Boat Club by week’s end, enabling club members to resume use of the site.
- Superintendent of Water and Sewer Greg Phillips reported that three of five leaks in village water lines have been repaired, eliminating the loss of about 50,000 gallons of water per day. He also said that recent heavy rains have brought the village reservoirs on Lake Surprise Road back up to 95 percent of capacity.
- Residents have until the end of August to submit comments on the initial recommendations of the Code Update Committee as part of its revamping of the Village Code. The committee’s recommendations are available at coldspringny.gov. Comments can be emailed to Trustee Marie Early at firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to Village Hall, 85 Main St., Cold Spring, NY 10516, Attention: Code Update Committee.