Editor’s Note: This statement was submitted to The Current by Putnam County legislator Carl Albano, who is chairman of the Physical Services Committee.
In my opinion, misleading information has been distributed to the public regarding the Butterfield Senior Center project. I find it discouraging that the majority of complaints about this well-intentioned County project come from residents in the very area it is designed to serve. Fortunately, it is a small minority who have voiced dissent based largely on partial and inaccurate information, which in my opinion, has been disseminated by groups and media outlets, such as Tax Watch and the Journal News.
Inaccuracies should be corrected with facts. For example, the original lease agreement never indicated the County would pay 52 percent of the tax on the entire assessed property at Butterfield. The lease clearly referred to the Lahey building alone and not the entire site; the County proposed to rent and pay 52 percent of that particular building’s property tax.
Those taxes work out to an estimated annual tax obligation of $29,000, broken out as follows: approximately $19,000 going to the [Haldane] school district; $5,800 to the Village of Cold Spring; $1,200 to the Town of Philipstown and $3,000 to the County. All tenants at this site would pay their fair share of the taxes. Although this point is straightforward, we revised the lease to further clarify these tax questions for those who misunderstood and to further emphasize we are only obliged to pay tax on 52 percent of the building we occupy.
Keep in mind, if the County owned the building, no taxes would be paid to the community. Over the initial term of the lease, more than $400,000 will be put back into the community through property taxes and about $50,000 will come back to the County. The most recent changes to the lease also included the elimination of the Charitable Donation section, and at the request of the Planning Board, we revised the language that referred to providing seniors with transportation. We already do this at our other sites and we intended to do this at Butterfield before the revised specific verbiage was added.
We did consider some of the special features in the build-out, such as a fireplace and teaching kitchen based on input of the parties that were making the $500,000 charitable donation. Now that the offer has been rescinded, we have scaled back the scope of work to fit into a more modest budget.
I can understand that some Putnam residents would be upset and confused by much of the misinformation regarding this project and I can understand their concern when they are unaware of the correct facts. That said, it astonishing to me that even when the facts are clearly stated some still choose to surface negativity, creating issues that do not exist. This only leads me to believe that there may be other factors, such as total opposition to the developer and the entire project. I for one would welcome the chance to see an abandoned property in my neighborhood be brought back to life.
Anyone who has questions can attend the Physical Committee Meeting or call the legislative office and I would be happy to provide the facts in detail.
At this point, I would like to point out that I stand corrected on statements I made at recent meetings. The first is that the lease was signed. The lease was in fact only approved by the legislature at that point. The second statement I made was about the square footage of this project. I did not recall at the time, however, when I checked my records, I found that 3,000 square feet was initially discussed based on the size of the area we occupy now. It was determined quickly that 6,000 to 7,000 square feet was necessary and that has been our direction during the last few years.
There was much discussion about purchasing a site over the last three years. This came up again at a recent legislative meeting. I have always been receptive to purchasing a site under the right circumstances. No such site, however, has ever been offered or identified that would accommodate this type of center. Keep in mind that interior build-out of an existing structure is expensive. If you add a building, site work and approvals to the equation you could easily be in range of $3 million to $5 million or more. That building would also require maintenance, updates and continuous care over its useful life. A County-owned structure would pay no tax. This center will have an initial total cost of about a third of what the other senior centers cost us. For these and other reasons owning for the County is not necessarily as advantageous as many assume.
Approximately 25 percent of Putnam residents are over the age of 60 and our senior population continues to grow rapidly as the Boomer Generation advances in age. This Senior Center has the potential to address the needs of this important population for the next 25 years. I thank the developer for offering it to us and accommodating the many changes. I also want thank all of those who have been instrumental in bringing this project to a point where it can move forward including the legislators who supported this, especially legislator Barbara Scuccimarra for her endless effort.