The Putnam County Legislature appears to be in a great hurry to sign a lease for a senior center at the Lahey Pavilion. I understand that legislators have been working on this proposition for several years, and there are a lot of people who want to get the center built and open; it’s not unreasonable to want to move forward. But as the many rounds of amendments to the lease and the heavily attended, rancorous meetings show, there are problems that need to be addressed before we commit to spending a very large amount of our money.
Everybody agrees that seniors in western Putnam County should have a center where they can get a good meal, socialize and keep their minds and bodies active. There is no complaint about that, and although the Lahey Pavilion may not truly be the best or only suitable location, not too many complaints about that, either. We all agree that we want a senior center.
Nonetheless, the process of designing and budgeting the senior center and negotiating the lease has been largely secret, or “confidential due to client-attorney privilege.” (By the way, that client-attorney privilege can be waived in the public interest.) Between the rush and the secrecy, many questions remain unanswered about both the layout and the budget, even as the Legislature is pressing to sign the lease. Here are a few.
If the County does not and will not own the property at the Lahey Pavilion, why is the Legislature committing to paying over $1 million for renovations that the developer will keep? Is that really business as usual? I would think that the property owner would bear the cost of renovating his own property, and negotiate any special requirements and a final lease with the tenant.
We have seen some numbers for the cost of the renovation, in a handout attached to the agenda for the Sept. 6 meeting. The numbers seem high, but again, there seems to be some question whether either the floor plan or the associated estimated costs will actually have much to do with the senior center at the Lahey Pavilion. A couple of items:
The proposed budget includes $25,000 to install a Wi-fi system that should not really cost over $5,000. Also, they allocate $200,000 for a kitchen. As I understand it, since the County decided that preparing meals on site in Cold Spring would be too expensive, meals are prepared in Carmel and reheated in Cold Spring — not an ideal plan. I should think that a kitchen for reheating meals need not cost $200,000. Even if they decided to cook on site, $200,000 for a kitchen is still a lot. Two hundred thousand dollars could also buy a lot of meals; perhaps Foodtown would be interested in discussing a contract. Or $200,000 could buy an additional bus for a senior shopping shuttle, or pay for more police, or for road maintenance, etc. The list goes on: there’s a line for a glass-fronted fireplace. Exterior stairs (it’s a one-story building.) And more.
The lease is to cost about $27,000 per month, with an annual increase, for 15 years, and there will be additional common area maintenance charges, part of which include property tax which the County would not have to pay if they owned the property. That adds up to a lot of money. Our money.
If the legislators are doing a good job with the senior center at Butterfield, they should be proud of their work, and eager to let us know how well things are going. Their refusal to disclose up-to-date and accurate details of the plans and the lease gives the impression that something improper may be going on. They might do well to dispel that appearance of impropriety by being more forthcoming.
The most important question: What could we do to get them to disclose their plans and make money-saving changes before they commit Putnam County taxpayers to the expensive renovation and the equally expensive lease?
Please do not construe my statements as being anti-senior. We do want a senior center, and we do want it soon. And we want seniors using it and enjoying it. We just don’t want to pay considerably more than we really have to. And at the end of fifteen years, we’d like to have something to show for our expense.
David Limburg, Nelsonville
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