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 [email protected] or mailed to Village Hall, 85 Main St., Cold Spring, NY 10516, Attention: Code Update Committee.
The lease agreement Legislator Scuccimarra describes as “a good one” was described otherwise by her colleague Legislator LoBue at the legislature’s meeting on Aug. 2. It has never been made public. Constituents should demand that Scuccimarra disclose its terms. According to LoBue, the lease Scuccimarra continues to champion requires Putnam County taxpayers to pay 50 percent of the county property taxes on the entire Butterfield property (7+ acres). That sounds like a very bad deal for taxpayers, while being a very good one for Butterfield Realty. It is her constituents — especially those on fixed incomes — who should take umbrage at Scuccimarra’s tone-deaf and ignorant misrepresentation of her constituent’s interests. Kathleen Foley’s remarks at the Aug. 2 meeting of the legislature were on point: Barbara Scuccimarra should feel particular shame.
I hesitate to tread on this topic, clearly hazardous footing. But how this even possible:
“According to LoBue, the lease Scuccimarra continues to champion requires Putnam County taxpayers to pay 50 percent of the county property taxes on the entire Butterfield property (7+ acres).”
How can it be determined without question that this statement is accurate? Who can produce this draft lease document?
How could it even be legal for taxpayers’ funds be used to fund a private interest’s tax bill? I understand tax abatements for business and economic developments are sometimes offered by municipalities (these programs themselves have their own slippery slopes). But that is not what is being described here: as I understand it, taxpayers are being forced to pay half of someone else’s tax bill more or less directly. Would a lease of the nature not be challenged in court?
And why focus on our local legislator? If true (and again I can’t say that it is) this would be an indictment (OK, a political indictment) of the entire county legislature, or at least of all members supporting or abetting this type of an agreement. And shame would probably then be too mild a word.
My daughter was born where that backhoe is positioned…. Structure gone, but the memories endure forever.
Odell/Walker/Scuccimarra’s 11th Commandment: Do not pay close attention to anything we do.
Mayor Merandy is right. We do need to pay close attention to the senior center lease. Taxpayers need to know its terms — what we’re being committed to by our county legislators. Given that the estimated project cost has jumped to $1.5 million without demonstrated basis (no business plan or design has been made public), what other hidden costs and escalations might there be?
A 15-year lease is a long term. The County Legislature overturned a sensible, fiscally-responsible five-year lease term limit to allow this particular senior center lease. The related Ailes “charitable agreement” was chock full of absurd risks for taxpayers. The legislature would have signed that irresponsible agreement in our names had we not protested. I can only imagine what’s lying in wait in the lease terms.
There are reports that by the term’s end, this private developer will received nearly $5 million in public money through this secret deal. Since the legislature won’t make the lease public, we just can’t know. It feels to me a bit like taxation without representation. Please ask our District 1 Legislator, Barbara Scuccimarra, to make this lease available to her constituents before it is signed bye mailing [email protected]. Reaffirm to her and her colleagues on the legislature that we want a gathering place for our seniors, but one that is thoughtfully planned and fiscally smart.
At the end of the 15-year lease, we will have spent $6 million to $7 million of public money, and have nothing to show for it. Nothing. We could have had our own beautifully renovated and outfitted facility if we had bought a property, but with this deal, we cannot continue to use “our” improved leased property unless we pay millions more in rent. A total ripoff of you, me and everyone else who lives in Putnam County!
Spending $1.5 million of public funds to renovate someone’s private property, plus another $3.5 million to lease this person’s property that we just improved, plus paying an enormous property tax bill estimated at $1 million over the rental period because we so foolishly didn’t buy a property instead, is totally absurd. This is so obviously contrary to the public’s benefit, but it’s surely quite beneficial to the interested parties who are foisting this scam on an inattentive public. It is given the sheen of respectability and garners support by claims of “it’s for the seniors,” but this is just cover for misuse of public funds. For years now, Putnam County has moved away from leasing facilities because the costs are so much higher, but now they’re committed to this deal? We should not let it happen. Let’s buy a building, and give seniors a permanent home that we own and is fiscally responsible.
It’s really funny how all of a sudden the concerned taxpayers of Cold Spring are just now coming out of the woodwork. All of this pretense that Mayor Merandy, Kathleen Foley, et. al. are so worried about the cost of the senior center after they just forced the legislature to reject the Ailes donation because it wasn’t pure enough for their high moral standards. Meanwhile, if anyone had suggested naming the center after former President Clinton, I doubt there would have been such a fuss.
The truth is that Ailes money, a hefty $500,000, would have been a direct savings for the taxpayers. On top of that, local contractors lost out on good jobs because now the project, if it is ever built at all, will be subject to the Wicks Law, which virtually guarantees that no local small businesses will be able to even bid on the project.
No government entity, especially crooked Putnam County, should ever be allowed to run a construction job. The politicians and bureaucrats who sit in Carmel know nothing about construction or how to bring a job in on time and on budget. Nor do they care about saving money because thanks to the taxpayers they have an unlimited supply of other people’s money.
If this senior center is ever built, I guarantee it will cost in excess of $5 million, just like all the other centers that have been built by the County. I urge all of you to check out what’s been done in other towns.
It is not always cheaper to buy than to rent — ask any homeowner or renter. The town and Village had that option available way before the Butterfield project. After many, many years of discussion and wrangling, it looked like a better deal would be to rent a nice new facility from Guillaro. There was nothing sinister or underhanded about this. It made good financial sense.
The lease and financial arrangements did not become an issue until the media exploded with yet unproven allegations against Roger Ailes and a certain group of residents saw the chance to exploit their hatred of Butterfield, Guillaro as well as their political enemies in the Legislature. I get it, it’s just politics. But this time around the only ones who are really going to suffer are the seniors, many of whom will be dead by the time the Center is built, if it ever is.
Generations of Cold Spring mayors and trustees have dropped the ball when it comes to figuring out ways to save money. Merandy may be the worst, but he is certainly not the only one. If they are so interested in helping the taxpayers, why not get rid of the unnecessary police department that takes up a quarter of the budget? Why not consolidate services with Philipstown whenever feasible? Why not try getting vital grant money from the State and Federal government for projects and infrastructure?
Millions of dollars are available to the Village from so many sources (even tourism) yet I don’t see them hiring anyone to go after the funds. Even the County gives Cold Spring money for extra trash collection. Where does that go? Can someone prove that it actually is used to pick up trash or does it go in the general fund?
Here’s another one: the trolley that nobody uses. Why not ask the County to just give us the money that they spend to run the damn thing which is roughly $70,000 a year? I’ve worked as a taxpayer advocate and SJW for most of my life. I have loads of carefully researched suggestions that have fallen on deaf ears.
Somehow I doubt that the mayor and his friends are really all that interested in doing the hard work necessary to become fiscally responsible. Not when it’s so much easier to get on the soapbox and pontificate against their political enemies. As always, it is the most vulnerable who end up getting screwed: the seniors and other taxpayers.
The legislature did not reject the Ailes donation; he rescinded it, citing delays. Ms. Villanova evaluates the issue through a political lens and wrongly infers opposition to renting is political when the costs have only just been leaked to the public, even as the lease is still being kept secret. That’s what responsible people who are paying attention are reacting to. At minimum, the county saves an estimated $1 million in property taxes if it owns, so it’s clear cut. Once purchased and paid off, no additional rents or costs except maintenance and repairs. Yes, it’s much more expensive for government to rent, there is no doubt.
Ailes withdrew the donation after a petition was drawn up and signed by several hundred people who demanded that the county reject the money. The legislators, being the craven cowards that they are, and sensitive only to the political repercussions of any actions taken, quickly backed down and weaseled out of whatever agreement had been made previously regarding the donation.
As far as the Senior Centers throughout Putnam that are run by the County, I don’t know of any towns that have them where the County is leasing and doesn’t own the property. Regardless, these centers are paid for by all the taxpayers of Putnam. Look at the one in Putnam Valley, for example. The County purchased a piece of property in our town park and put up a Taj Mahal senior center that is very well staffed and provides a variety of services for the seniors.
The people who run it are employees of the county. The property is owned by the County and paid for through our County taxes. When our center was built, they didn’t even talk about a budget. Money was no object. The sky was the limit because it was all for the seniors (and, of course, the politicians).
The good people of Cold Spring should understand that they can expect no bargains from the County for their senior center now that they have lost whatever private funding was available. The county will build and we will all pay.
By the way, the PV Senior Center is not without its own controversies. Again, Cold Springers take note.
Fast forward to July 2016 and we now find out that the wonderful County wants to exercise some kind of eminent domain and put up a cell tower on “their” property in our town park. This has caused somewhat of a scandal because the project was pretty much done behind closed doors without so much as a public hearing so residents could voice their objections. It remains to be seen how much home rule we have if any.
People forget that when we say the “County” or the “town” or the “Village” will pay for something, it really means that the money is coming from OUR pockets.
I don’t know why you’re promoting a false narrative regarding the Ailes donation, but it’s not even close to the truth. Spreading misinformation, whether intentional or otherwise, sews unnecessary strife.
The petition you describe as “signed by several hundred people who demanded that the county reject the money” is a demonstrably false statement. The petition was for transparency and asked that “the Legislature make the agreement with Roger Ailes available for public scrutiny and public comment prior to taking any action.” It was signed by over 500 people. You can read it here.
Ailes withdrew his donation offer the day after the legislature tabled (postponed action on) the contract, announcing his decision in the PCNR, complaining about the delays. The legislature did not weasel out of anything, as you assert.
So you are describing the legislators as “craven cowards,” “sensitive only to the political repercussions” who should never be trusted to run a construction job, and yet we are supposed to accept some secret agreement that they’ve hatched-out with Ailes? When this entire deal folds simply because people are demanding closer scrutiny, then something clearly doesn’t smell right.
The folly is that anyone anywhere expected any “bargain” from the county government.
There is no such thing as a free lunch and never was. Sooner or later someone always pays, often grievously for these so-called bargains.
Actually, the petition requested that the County Legislature make public the terms of the Ailes “charitable agreement” that was about to be signed in our names. The Legislators were not willing to share it, and know we know why. Had the agreement not been leaked by LoHud, we would not have known its absurd and fiscally irresponsible terms. And we would have had to pay the price for them.
But I will agree with one point you make: “People forget that when we say the “County” or the “town” or the “Village” will pay for something, it really means that the money is coming from OUR pockets.”
Bingo. That’s exactly why thinking, fiscally-minded folks asked to see the terms of the “charitable agreement” and are now asking to see the terms of a 15-year, multi-million dollar lease. A lease that will give us 6,000 square feet of unfinished space for the use of 20 people a day on average. Pricey.
With another vote on a revised lease in the Physical Services committee scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 23, and a $1 million bond issue to pay for it also on the agenda, perhaps the wisest course for the County Legislature is to admit they have lost all credibility on this project, abandon this lease and put the issue before the voters in November in some open manner. Certainly there should be senior services available in Philipstown, but most seniors I expect are also homeowners and taxpayers as I am and concerned about current and longer term rates.
The facts in this case are very simple. The Ailes family made the donation several years ago, long before all the uproar about the sexual harassment allegations surfaced. When they made the donation initially, they stated with good reason, that they did not want to just “give” the money to the Putnam County officials. They knew that if they did so, the money would have ended up in the General Fund and most likely would not have gone for the purpose for which it was intended, namely, the Senior Center.
To that end, the Ailes attached another stipulation to the donation, namely that they wanted to have some control over how the money was eventually used. This was all done not because Roger Ailes suddenly decided he wanted to become a construction manager, but because they didn’t want the county people to (for want of a better word) to misappropriate the donation.
Also, recall that there was a deadline attached to the donation; I forget how many years or months the County had to accept it. The deal was: use it or lose it.
Time passed and as usual when county and local government are involved, things got screwed up. What should have been a simple gift used to help the seniors instead got turned into a cause celebre. Which leads us to where we are today with the Ailes donation withdrawn and the taxpayers back to footing the entire bill.
Ms. Foley and the Mayor are correct. When it comes to following the money, the fiscally minded people of Putnam and the Village should be looking at each and every deal with the county extremely carefully. They should also look first in their own backyard and pick that low-hanging fruit that is consuming so much of their own money unnecessarily.
Patty, the facts aren’t so simple, and you seem to know more about it than our county representatives wish to share. Why not just make the arrangement public? That is all that’s being asked.
I agree. Why should any of this type of information on the use of public funds or on the philosophies or strategies of governmental policies not be made publicly available? It can only be assumed the reason is embarrassment or worse would come to those who wish it kept these facts secret.