But maintains oversight of nearly half of funds
By Holly Toal
When adopting its 2017 budget Oct. 27, the Putnam County Legislature voted to place three quarters of the funding for the Visitor’s Bureau into subcontingency, meaning the tourism department must get legislative approval before spending the funds.
The department’s budget was set at $218,500, with $142,000 from the county, $61,500 from the state and $10,000 in leased transportation funds.
Lawmakers had spent weeks debating whether to exert more control over some of the tourism department funds until some of the dust settled from the shake-up in leadership earlier this year when then-director Libby Pataki resigned amid an investigation into the agency’s finances.
The New York State Attorney General’s Office began an inquiry into the daily operations of the bureau in February after it was reported by the Journal News that the tax-exempt agency appeared to have no functioning board, as required by law. In March, then-Tourism Director Libby Pataki of Garrison stepped down, and her deputy Frank Smith was appointed as interim director. He has since assembled a volunteer board of directors.
During the legislature’s Oct. 20 Budget and Finance Committee meeting, Dini LoBue (R-Mahopac Falls) questioned some of the financial documents submitted by Smith, which did not include any information from the current year.
“I’m concerned because I see in 2013 you were in arrears $71,000, and in 2015, it looks like another $30,000,” she said. “That’s why the funding [should be] placed in subcontingency.”
Barney Molloy of Cold Spring, the new chairman of the tourism board, said the deficit doesn’t exist in audit reports.
“The running tally that you just received was also delivered to the board of directors yesterday and we spent two hours going through this,” he said, adding that certified audits had been completed for 2012 to 2014 and showed no deficits.
“What you’re looking at is a running check register going back four years in a checking account,” he said of the files. “So whatever the deficit was in a running historical ledger obviously was reconciled in the fiscal year that it pertained to.”
Molloy said that in the board’s seven weeks of existence, it has adopted a procurement policy, a code of conduct and a conflict-of-interest policy and is working on a standards and procedures policy.
“We’ve also been in touch with the Attorney General’s Office and we’ve apprised them of all these facts and brought them up to speed, and they are more than satisfied with how the new board is executing along these lines,” he said.
According to the new procurement policy, Smith, as acting tourism director, can sign checks up to $500. Expenses from $501 to $3,000 requires the signature of a board member, and any amount greater than $3,000 requires a request for proposals. Molloy said the board is drafting a Request for Proposals form for services such as accounting, legal, technology and events.
In addition, Molloy said the board has been told by state officials that any Empire State Development matching funds not spent this year can be rolled over into 2017.
“We’re managing this whole project while trying also to secure the services of an executive director,” said Molloy, referring to an ongoing search for a new tourism director to replace Pataki.
He said the board has narrowed a pool of candidates to 12, with interviews scheduled during the next two to three weeks. “We are committed to having a final candidate and a hire by the end of the year,” he said.
He added that the board plans to work with the new executive director to come up with a marketing plan to determine how funds are going to be spent going forward, and that no additional advertising commitments are being made until a marketing plan and cost-benefit analysis is completed.
“We are committed to righting the ship, so to speak,” he said, “but we are not here to answer to the sins of those who proceeded us. We are volunteers and we are looking forward to making an impact going forward.”
Carl Albano (R-Carmel) commented: “We have to separate two different things here. We have the past to deal with and we’re going to address that, [and] we’ve got new people here that are helping us straighten it out. They have to function – it’s a very important agency.”
On Oct. 27, when the board voted to adopt the 2017 county budget, Kevin Wright (R-Mahopac) suggested the Legislature release a quarter of the funds so the Visitor’s Bureau can operate through the beginning of the year. A motion was made by Toni Addonizio (R-Kent) to place $100,000 in subcontingency, and keep the remaining $42,000 in the general budget. “I don’t believe it’s tying their hands,” she said.
The motion passed 8 to 2, with Albano and Barbara Scuccimarra (R-Philipstown) voting no.
“This is something they inherited,” Scuccimarra said. “I don’t think it’s fair to put any money away.”
Joseph Castellano (R-Southeast) countered that the bureau “will be funded until March, which gives them several months to figure everything out.”