Putnam Legislature Approves $218K for Tourism

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.”

5 thoughts on “Putnam Legislature Approves $218K for Tourism

  1. I cannot thank you enough for this article about the mysterious Visitors’ Bureau. I have been trying to obtain this information for many weeks, but since Mr. Molloy took over the Board of Directors, the agency has been in virtual lockdown and Mr. Smith has apparently been told to keep an extremely low profile.

    At the present time neither he nor any of the board members are responding to my numerous requests for funding two year-end promotions for the Village of Cold Spring which is, without dispute, Putnam’s No. 1 tourist attraction. I have made phone calls and sent at least a dozen emails requesting $1,400 for radio ads and reprinting our Shopping & Dining Guide, to no avail.

    Mr. Molloy, who is a Cold Spring resident and political operative, should know more than anyone else on that Board just how important tourism is to our Village. He says that his Board is so busy cleaning house that it cannot get its collective act together sufficiently to instruct Mr. Smith to write a couple of checks. By the way, neither of these initiatives are new. Until the new board took over, I had been able to obtain funding for many projects for Cold Spring including the two I mentioned.

    Frank Smith has demonstrated all along that if nothing else, he is a loyal soldier for the Pataki family. It was Mr. Smith who “cleaned up” the mess that was created while keeping his mouth shut about what was really going on behind the scenes. At this point, he should resign for obvious reasons.

    What we have here is yet another bunch of well-meaning bureaucrats who are so obsessed with their newfound power that they cannot even do the jobs that they either signed up for or are getting paid for by the taxpayers of this County. This is all very simple — write the checks and be done with it. If these people are so incompetent that if they can’t even take 10 minutes to write some checks, they shouldn’t be allowed to be making policy decisions or picking a new director.

    Although I have little to no faith in the integrity of the Legislature when it comes to this sort of thing, at the very least they are elected, for what it’s worth. Their instincts were correct to try to keep some control over the budget but they did not go far enough. They should ditch the board and treat the tourism agency just as they do every other county agency that is funded by the taxpayers. Tourism is much too important to be handled by a group like this that obviously does not know what it’s doing.

  2. It is informative to listen to the audio of the 10/20/16 session for the full discussion related to the Tourism Board. It should give all Putnam taxpayers pause that this Legislature — which seems to have such disregard for fiscal restraint — should hesitate about the funding of the Tourism Board. Neither the Board’s recent past nor its current composition inspire confidence. It is unthinkable that any more of the sales tax dollars sent to Carmel by our hard-working Village business owners should disappear down the black hole that is the troubled Tourism Board.

    • The audio from 10/20/16 is a real eye opener. One bombshell after another. Once again I am shocked at how incompetent and dishonest these people appear to be, in their own words.

  3. Aside from whitewashing the Pataki tourism scandal, what remedial measures did Attorney General Schneiderman impose on the bureau so that they could continue operating at a $218,000 clip and for what are these funds being expended? What is the plan?

  4. Proceeding without a viable plan seems to be the modus operandi for Odell, Walker and their allies on the Legislature. We all need to keep asking who they are working for. I’m pretty sure it’s not us, despite the fact that we foot the bill for their spendthrift ways.