Need to keep them living, working, spending in Putnam
By Holly Crocco
Putnam needs to do more to keep people in their 20s and 30s — the “millennial” generation — living, working and spending in the county, MaryEllen Odell said during her annual State of the County address on March 9 at the Putnam County Golf Course in Mahopac.
That means offering the most up-to-date technology and transportation services, the county executive said, as well as real estate and recreational opportunities.
“They’re a very demanding generation,” Odell said. “They know what they want, and they want it now. We have to give them what they need so they can grow and prosper.”
Odell said transit-oriented development is key. She cited Brewster, which is in the midst of a project to redevelop its downtown into a mini-metropolis adjacent to the train station, with retail on the street level and apartments on upper floors.
Having residential and retail space within walking distance of the station eliminates the need to own a vehicle, Odell said. That’s also why Putnam should welcome ride-sharing services.
“It could be very helpful for our local economy if Uber and Lyft make it here,” she said, explaining that this type of app-based technology gives millennials the on-demand mobility services they want. “We’re ready to discuss how government can utilize Uber and Lyft and not interfere with private business, and how it’s going to mix and meld with the needs of Putnam County.”
In addition, Odell said Putnam needs to offer technology that allows consumers to do business from their laptops, smart phones and other handheld devices. This includes online banking and mobile check depositing, managing home security systems, ordering take-out, purchasing railroad tickets and getting the daily news.
One way the county is enhancing mobile technology is by upgrading its infrastructure. It is working with a Danbury, Connecticut, company to erect cell-phone towers throughout the county, she said. So far, two towers have been approved, and at least two more are in the works.
Odell said her administration is committed to enhancing and promoting some of the county’s best assets. “The Tilly Foster Farm and Educational Institute is going to happen in big, big ways,” she said of the county-owned and operated farm in Brewster. By partnering with Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES to bring a culinary cooking program and farm-to-table dining experience to the property, Odell said the county hopes to attract visitors from Westchester and New York City to enjoy the landscape, dine and spend money.
If those visitors have a place to stay overnight, she noted, their spending in Putnam could double.
While the county still has no “leisure hotel,” Odell said Airbnb has been quietly operating in Putnam in at least 30 homes. If more homeowners get on board with the online hospitality service, she said Putnam can transform from a “day-cation” county to a “stay-cation” county.
The added sales tax from these visitors is what the county wants, and Odell said 2016 saw an increase of 9.5 percent in sales tax revenue.
“We had a good year on paper for sales tax,” she said. While there was a dip in 2015, Odell said that since 2012 Putnam has seen an average climb in sales tax of 3 percent per year.
Putnam Democrats respond
In its response to Odell’s address, the Putnam County Democratic Committee criticized the county executive for citing an “embarrassing litany of older technologies” and said that “with very little infrastructure, and almost no transit system, we cannot keep millennials here with Airbnb.”
It chided Odell for not mentioning the heroin crisis, which it cited as the greatest risk to millennials. “While Ms. Odell minimized federal assistance received from Democratic lawmakers for combating the heroin crisis, she offered no new ideas,” the committee said. “There are virtually no beds in Putnam County for adolescent addicts to detox and rehabilitate.”
The committee also claimed Odell’s address was “sprinkled with many pieces of false information,” such as the statement that the county has received $250,000 in state funds for the senior center at the Butterfield site in Cold Spring. “This funding has only been proposed,” it said.
“As long as our Republican county executive continues to hire unqualified political friends, we will continue to have little meaningful innovation and instead endure scandals like those in our tourism and consumer affairs departments,” it said. “Putnam County continues wasting our money on boondoggles like Tilly Foster and the Putnam Golf Course.”