With Donation Nixed, County May Issue Bond for Senior Center

Complaints about lack of transparency, and calls for action

By Holly Toal

Putnam County lawmakers are moving forward with the creation of a Cold Spring Senior Center with a proposal to issue an $800,000 bond after the withdrawal of an offer by Roger and Elizabeth Ailes of Garrison to donate $500,000 for the project.

The county plans to lease 6,000 square feet in the Lahey Pavilion at the former Butterfield Hospital site on Route 9D from developer Paul Guillaro for a term of 15 years. According to a version of the lease that was approved by the Legislature in May, the county would pay $77,700 in rent the first year. The rent would increase annually by 2 percent or the consumer price index, whichever is higher.

In addition, the county would pay a “common-area maintenance” fee of about $50,000 annually, which is said to represent the county’s proportionate share (14 percent) of costs such as snow removal and landscaping. The fee does not include charges for water, sewer, electricity and other utilities, which will be paid for by the county.

The Ailes family withdrew its  pledge earlier this month after criticism over the terms of an agreement with the county that gave Roger Ailes control over the project, including hiring contractors. It also offered the county no guarantee on the work. Ailes, the former chairman and CEO of Fox News, resigned after allegations arose in a lawsuit and internal investigation of sexual harassment, which he has denied. The center was to have been named after him.

Legislators Castellano, Albano and Scuccimarra (Photo by Ross Corsair)
Legislators Castellano, Albano and Scuccimarra (Photo by Ross Corsair)

The bond proposal was approved on Aug. 23 by the Physical Services Committee, which consists of legislators Carl Albano (R-Carmel), Joseph Castellano (R-Southeast) and Barbara Scuccimarra (R-Philipstown). If approved by the Audit Committee — Castellano, Albano and William Gouldman (R-Putnam Valley) — it will go to the full legislature. The Audit Committee next meets at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 29, at the County Office Building, 40 Gleneida Ave., Carmel.

Kevin Wright (R-Mahopac), who was at the Physical Services Committee meeting on Aug. 23, criticized his colleagues for sending the bond referendum forward without documentation. Further, he argued the Butterfield lease should not be signed by the legislature before the bond is approved.

“There’s a gap in the process,” he said. “I want to know how much something costs before I buy it.”

Another point of contention involved how much the county will be required to pay in property taxes as part of the lease.

While Legislature Chairwoman Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson) and County Attorney Andrew Negro said the county will be responsible for about 52 percent of taxes associated with the Lahey Pavilion, which is 12,000 square feet, Dini LoBue (R-Mahopac Falls) maintained that is not the case.

The lease document approved in May reads: “Tenant agrees to pay as additional rent in each successive year of this lease to include percentage of real estate taxes. The additional rent which the tenant will be liable for at the commencement of the lease agreement shall be equal to 52.0833 percent of the total tax amount application to the tax year in which the lease commences, which shall be payable in equal monthly installments.”

Legislator Dini LoBue (Photo by Ross Corsair)
Legislator Dini LoBue (Photo by Ross Corsair)

According to LoBue, the Butterfield property and its buildings are assessed at $1.2 million, with $66,000 in property taxes due each year. The lease states that the county is required to pay $30,000, which is about half of the taxes on the entire property, not just the Lahey Pavilion, she said.

Further, LoBue warned that once the property reaches its full potential, with new buildings added and others being renovated, the assessment will only increase, and with it, the taxes. After the initial 15-year term, the county will have the option to re-lease the site for another five years, she noted, or purchase the space at market rate. The lease does not say that the county will receive any credit for the $4.3 million it will have paid in rent or other charges toward the property.

“There’s no provision like that,” she said. “There’s no protection for the county.”

Suggested Revisions

A petition at change.org signed by 233 people as of Aug. 24 called on the Putnam County Legislature to make changes to the lease agreement between the county and Butterfield Realty, including:

  • a shorter term with no penalty for early termination
  • no use restrictions or obligations
  • a share of property taxes proportionate to the space used by the county
  • lower rent, maintenance costs and fees
  • the right to audit and dispute maintenance charges
  • reimbursement for labor and materials spent improving the property
  • an option to “rent to own”
  • a limitation of liability for public services such as water and sewer connections on private property

The Physical Services Committee also unanimously approved an amendment to the lease for the legislature to consider that states the county will pay $61,000 to the developer to pay for a new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system in the Lahey Pavilion.

Much of the public criticism of county lawmakers revolved around the fact that the proposed lease has not been made public (although it has been leaked to the press and posted online), as well as legislators seeming unsure about its status.

When Albano, who is chair of the Physical Services Committee, said the lease had been signed, Nacerino corrected him, saying it has been “approved” by the legislature, but not yet signed.

“Once the document is finalized, the public will see it,” said Albano.

This led residents in attendance to question how they can share their opinions on the project if they do not know what the county is agreeing to.

Lourdes Laifer of Cold Spring voiced support for a new senior center but at a lower cost to taxpayers. “This lease deal is good for the developer and lousy for the taxpayers,” she said.

The audience at the Aug. 23 Physical Services committee meeting (Photo by Ross Corsair)
The audience at the Aug. 23 Physical Services committee meeting (Photo by Ross Corsair)

Cold Spring Mayor Dave Merandy asked the legislature why voters, and lawmakers at the town and village level, have not been able to see the lease.

“It’s not transparent,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going on. The bottom line is the people I represent are concerned about the cost of it. It’s upsetting and it’s not proper government.”

Steve Voloto, a Cold Spring Village trustee, presented letters from residents who are concerned about the county overspending on the project, and chided the legislators for not making the lease document available so residents could familiarize themselves with the proposal.

“There are concerns that people can’t just pick up the document and see for themselves,” he said. “And this is their money; this is our money.”

Philipstown Town Supervisor Richard Shea pointed out that development of the Butterfield property is going forward regardless of the county’s participation. He added that the town reviewed many other options for a senior center before pursuing space at the Butterfield site and determined that building a center from the ground up would be too costly.

“I’m hoping this thing can get resolved,” he said. “I do want to see the best possible lease negotiated.”

Donna Anderson of Cold Spring implored lawmakers to move forward. She said that 30 percent of Philipstown residents are over the age of 60 and need a place to go to receive nutritional, social and other services. “The current senior center is inadequate to serve the population,” she said.

James Hoch of Garrison addresses the committee (Photo by Ross Corsair)
James Hoch of Garrison addresses the committee (Photo by Ross Corsair)

Shirley Norton of Cold Spring also urged the Legislature to make the proposed center a reality. “The first time I came here was about three years ago,” she said. “I’d like you to vote tonight, to make your decision .… I trust my legislators. If they voted for the lease, I trust they know what they’re doing.”

Patricia Sheehy, director of the county’s Office for Senior Resources, said that while the public is entitled to a level of transparency, residents need to leave certain decisions up to their elected officials and trust the right decisions are being made.

“We need to move this project forward,” she said. “It’s very easy to poke holes in things, and it’s much more difficult to move forward and do the right thing.”

Ed Cook of Mahopac said laborers are looking forward to seeing the project advance with public leases. “We are in strong favor of  building this,” he said. “But let’s plan it right.”

LoBue told labor union members assembled at the meeting that Butterfield is not the only project on the county’s radar. “Guys, we’ve got tons of projects,” she said. “This is a bad deal. It’s pro-developer. Unfortunately, the seniors have been used in this project, because it has nothing to do with seniors.”

Albano concluded the meeting by addressing some of the concerns brought up by residents. “There are no secrets here,” he said of the lease. “This is the way it’s been done with all legal documents.”

[To view an unofficial video of the Physical Services Committee meeting, click here. Official audio minutes are here.]

18 Responses to "With Donation Nixed, County May Issue Bond for Senior Center"

  1. Lithgow Osborne   August 26, 2016 at 10:39 am

    Albano’s contempt of the public was palpable last Tuesday night as he tried to bluster his way through the proceedings. He contradicted himself several times in an effort to mitigate the fact that the County never released and still won’t release the details of this lease. Why is Barbara Scuccimarra just standing by? This lease is terrible and our representative to the county should be looking out for us, the citizens of Philipstown. Our money, our tax dollars are paying for this lease and we should at least know the details before it’s signed or approved.

  2. Stephanie Hawkins   August 26, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    Entirely untrustworthy and not credible, Carl Albano lied repeatedly during Tuesday’s meeting, claiming the lease was signed and as a consequence the public could not comment on the lease. Throughout Barbara Scuccimarra and Paul Castellano sat in silence, complicit in falsehood and misrepresentation of the truth.

  3. Lillian Rosengarten   August 26, 2016 at 6:30 pm

    This is an extraordinary amount of money. The whole process has been secretive and ugly. I cannot understand why our town would enter into such a negotiation. Surely it is possible to have a senior center that is cost effective and will satisfy seniors. The county’s actions without supplying details is very worrisome. The whole business of a Lahey renovation (a perfectly functional medical building) at such an enormous price with annual over-the-top payments by our town seems wrong. What really upsets me is how once again the village is split and those who protest are vilified. It truly leaves a bad feeling and a loss of trust in the legislators.

  4. Patty Villanova   August 27, 2016 at 11:07 am

    Why is it that the taxpayers are funding an entire county legal department filled with attorneys, yet nobody can figure out what the hell is going on? Why is it that non-attorneys, politicians and volunteers are doing the review for the lease documents and the legal process instead of the highly paid county lawyers?

    Not to mention what I’ve been saying for years — that our county legislators are absolutely useless, especially Barbara Scuccimarra, who seems perpetually confused about the issues. These people are paid an actual salary and other perks for what is basically a no-show job. Butterfield is a perfect example of their laziness and incompetence. In the private sector, they would not survive for a week, yet they are handling a yearly budget of $148 million of our money. Kind of scary, isn’t it?

    All of these politicians need to be voted out of office.

    • Frank Haggerty   August 27, 2016 at 2:48 pm

      These county legislators being part-time assignments with part-time type pay puts them at a disadvantage vs. interests and imperatives of the full-time executive and its cohort of full-time political appointees. The situation is similar at the state level. Legislators should be full-time positions. Other changes are needed, as well.

    • Lillian Rosengarten   August 29, 2016 at 2:58 pm

      Couldn’t have said it better!

  5. Ann Fanizzi   August 28, 2016 at 8:35 am

    Do you have sufficient legal grounds and money to initiate a taxpayers’ lawsuit?

  6. Steve Laifer   August 28, 2016 at 9:22 pm

    The video linked below shows the full cost (with escalations and taxes) for the pending Butterfield Senior Center 15-year lease at $4.765 million.

    That means Putnam taxpayers will be paying an average of $26,472 per month – for 6,000 square feet!

    https://youtu.be/XDj8ZIQgyH4

  7. Andrew Dade   August 30, 2016 at 9:30 pm

    It is 22 miles to Vassar Hospital in Poughkeepsie, 23 miles to Putnam Hospital in Carmel and 14 miles to NewYork-Presbyterian/Hudson Valley Hospital in Cortlandt Manor.

    Wouldn’t the time, effort and money be better spent for our community if an emergency room were built instead of a senior center?

    The above question requires common sense. It may be too tough for a politician to answer.

    Also, I would just like to know why senior citizens are such a “political sacred cow” in America?

  8. Ann Fanizzi   August 31, 2016 at 2:52 am

    Senior citizens are not “sacred cows” but pawns in the cynical, unscrupulous grip of the Odell/Walker administration and their five legislative lackeys who are beholden to the new political forces driven by Ailes/Pataki spreading the virus of resentment, division and conflict in the community.

  9. Lillian Rosengarten   August 31, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    I am an elder and completely agree with you. Why has there been so much to do about the “senior center?” I am sure there could be a more equitable and suitable center for seniors that is not robbing the community with over-the-top renovation expense and neverending payments to the landlord. There are many services needed: an emergency room so we would not have to schlep to Hudson Valley Hospital is one. Also, a program for teens, gymnastics studio with classes? Qi Gong, Tai Chi? A post office, vegetarian organic restaurant, steam rooms for health. I cannot imagine the thinking of those who are pushing through an enormous monetary commitment for something as mundane as a senior center to be housed in a building already in use as a very efficient medical center. I’m not against a center at all, but this project in Lahey seems completely bizarre, outrageous and, sorry to say, suspect in the way it is being expedited.

  10. Patty Villanova   August 31, 2016 at 6:30 pm

    I think Andrew has a really good point about the need for some kind of emergency medical treatment center in the Cold Spring area. However, I would not recommend that the county bureaucrats have anything to do with it as they have shown themselves to be inept and totally uncaring when it comes to spending “other people’s money.” What we do see sprouting up on the eastern side of Putnam and in northern Westchester are numerous walk-in centers that can handle a fairly good ranges of medical services. None of these are affiliated with government but are private enterprises that are fulfilling a real need. Perhaps some smart entrepreneur will figure out there’s money to be made by opening such a facility in Cold Spring at Butterfield or in the vicinity.

    As far as the senior center and seniors in general, have a little respect. Soon enough you will be one of them and looking for the same perks. Which, by the way, are long overdue for the older taxpayers of Cold Spring/Philipstown.

    There are functioning, county-funded senior centers throughout Putnam that were built and funded by county taxpayers. I find it incredible that this one has turned out to be such a fiasco. To my knowledge, nowhere else has there been the problems that are occurring in Cold Spring. Don’t blame Guillaro or Ailes — this is entirely the fault of every government official from every jurisdiction who has had anything to do with this project since its inception.

  11. Ann Fanizzi   September 1, 2016 at 12:54 am

    The only county run-and-built senior centers in Putnam County are the Kohler Center in Mahopac (servicing the largest number of seniors in the county; adjacent to senior housing) and Putnam Valley. The Kent Center, which was proposed by former County Executive Robert Bondi, which would have cost millions of dollars and required the closing of the Carmel center on Old Route 6 and the transfer of some social services far distant from the population centers of Carmel and Southeast, was finally denied by a more fiscally prudent and independent legislature.

    I strongly opposed that center on the same grounds. Patterson seniors share the facilities of the Patterson Recreation Center on Front Street, Southeast seniors meet at a old, somewhat renovated Lakeview facility (sharing the room with other activities and it is one room), and Kent seniors meet at the Lake Carmel Community Center (again sharing facilities with other organizations and activities.

    These are the areas which are truly underserved but lack the political clout of a crony-infected administration. Senior Resource Director Sheehy spoke of priorities. The priority should be to provide adequate facility for seniors commensurate with the numbers, which she admitted at the Audit meeting were closer to 30 rather than hundreds. Some common sense, some sanity and fiscal accountability must enter into the deliberation on this divisive issue.

  12. Anthony Merante   September 3, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    Twenty-two miles to Vassar – and 42 traffic lights – “over the hill and through the dale” to Putnam Hospital (you know, “The Big Woods”; has anybody from Philipstown actually ever seen that place?). Hudson Valley is a better-than-good hospital and not much trouble for anyone who can drive. But what if the “seniors” are not sick but just need socialization or a place to gather, talk of old times and how much they have done for the younger generation?

    • Lillian Rosengarten   September 4, 2016 at 2:51 pm

      No one is denying a senior center. It is about the enormous cost and the underhanded way this was negotiated by legislators with special interests.

      • Patty Villanova   September 5, 2016 at 9:13 am

        Which legislators and what special interests are you referring to?

        I think it is just business as usual with these people. Nobody in Philipstown/Cold Spring paid attention to the excesses of their political leaders until the Roger Ailes donation became a hot potato that was leveraged for political reasons on both sides. Now all the social justice warriors are becoming taxpayer advocates. Better late than never.

        • Lillian Rosengarten   September 7, 2016 at 2:42 pm

          I went to the legislator meeting last night. There is no doubt people in Cold Spring have paid attention. Not social justice advocates (although nothing wrong with that) just realistic concerns about the cost to renovate and the financial cost over the next 15 years that are astronomical and fail to take fiduciary responsibility with the exception of three legislators who have consistently questioned and opposed the rational of the lease.

          Their concerns do not get tabled and are dismissed by the majority vote. It appears to me this lease has monetary gains for the developer but much is unclear. Also there are no services planned and many problems not properly addressed about what this fancy center will provide for our seniors and the community who also need services. I also do not think seniors should be isolated and a center with this price tag needs to be multi-purposed. There are many important issues that require community involvement.

        • Eric Erickson   September 7, 2016 at 8:34 pm

          And it was approved. Where is this newspaper on this? Jeez, had to read it in the PCNR. Come on….