Six of nine legislators must approve on Sept. 6
By Holly Toal
With both Putnam County’s Physical Services and Audit committees approving a bond resolution for $800,000 for the creation of a senior center at the Butterfield property in Cold Spring, the question will now go before the full legislature on Sept. 6, where it must pass by two-thirds vote, or six of the nine legislators.
During the Aug. 29 Audit & Administration Committee meeting, legislator Carl Albano (R-Carmel) explained that the county had scaled back its plans for the proposed senior center after Roger and Elizabeth Ailes of Garrison withdrew a pledge to provide $500,000 for the project. In a lease agreement approved but not yet signed by the legislature, the county plans to lease 6,000 square feet of space at the Lahey Pavilion at the Butterfield development in Cold Spring for 15 years.
“We asked for a revised estimate to tighten up the numbers, and we got that and that’s what it’s based on,” Albano said of the $800,000 bond resolution. “We’ve made a commitment to bring this project in for $200,000 less [from $1.5 million], and as a group that’s what we’ve decided.”
Barbara Scuccimarra (R-Philipstown) said the biggest change to the proposed senior center is a reduced kitchen area. She said there had been plans for a teaching kitchen but “that whole section is gone.”
Joseph Castellano (R-Southeast), one of three members of the Audit Committee with Albano and William Gouldman (R-Putnam Valley), laid out the financial plan to his colleagues. A month ago, he said, the county planned to spend $1.5 million, with $500,000 from the Ailes, $500,000 from the state and a $500,000 loan.
“The $500,000 donation went away, so either we don’t have enough money to do this, or we cut back,” he said. The county is now planning a $1.3 million project, with $500,000 from the state and the $800,000 bond. Castellano said if all went well, the project would cost less than $1.3 million, “but we need that money if necessary. We’re not going over the $1.3 million.”
The legislator noted the $500,000 pledged collectively by Sen. Sue Serino (R-Hyde Park), and Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (D-Ossining) is still on the table but Scuccimarra pointed out that some of the hesitation by the state centered around a proposed agreement with Roger Ailes that gave him unusual control over the project, including hiring contractors. Galef had suggested the state might not provide funds if Putnam County agreed to a lease in which Ailes, the former Fox News chief for whom the center was to be named, did not have to pay state-mandated minimum wages.
“That is no longer on the table, so that question is resolved,” Scuccimarra said.
Still, legislators have faced criticism over the cost of the project. Castellano defended the expenditure.
“This is a senior center in part of the county that’s been underserved,” he said. “It’s a great deal for the people on the other side of the county. I think it’s a fair deal for Putnam County residents to pay for this. The seniors are well-deserving of this senior center. If we pull out there’s not going to be a senior center there — not any time in the near future.”
Dini LoBue (R-Mahopac Falls) reiterated her view that the $4.3 million the county will pay to lease the space from the developer over 15 years is far too much, especially since the county owns its three existing senior centers.
“This is a rental,” she said. “And the amount of money is absolutely ludicrous and the setup of the contract is just unbelievable. It’s obscene.”
She also protested that she has not yet seen site plans for the revised project. “They were never presented at Physical Services,” she said, adding that she would like to see “the actual plans of what the inside of the center would look like.”
Further, LoBue argued that the center will be too much for too little. “You’re talking about a very small population of seniors,” she said. “Those seniors are very affluent and independent and they won’t be going to this center.”
Scuccimarra balked at that.
“That’s not true,” she said. “You don’t know my constituents. Stop saying that you do know them. You don’t.”
Pat Sheehy, who runs the Office for Senior Resources, said the county anticipates a large number of seniors will use the center.
Ann Fanizzi, who lives in Southeast, said that if legislators were arguing that all residents of Putnam County should pay for a senior center based on the number of seniors who will use it, the same case could be made for Southeast.
“The Town of Southeast has this little center over in Lakeview that they sort of put together,” she said. “So there are many areas with large populations that are truly underserved. When you come to looking at priorities as to the service that is provided to this county, we have been really shortchanged by the county in a great many respects, and the senior center is one of them.”