Putnam OKs Money for Senior Center

Questions arise about public comment

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Putnam legislators on Tuesday (May 1) unanimously approved spending another $300,000 for the Butterfield senior center, which they officially dubbed the Friendship Center in Philipstown.

The twin 8-0 votes occurred at the Legislature’s formal monthly meeting in Carmel and followed recommendations in April by the Rules Committee on the name and by the Physical Services and Audit committees on the funding, which will be drawn from a reserve account.

“There’re a lot of surprises” in construction, said Legislator Carl Albano (R-Carmel). “Fortunately, we created a capital reserve fund for such surprises” and moving the $300,000 “has no fiscal impact.”

The money will help transform the former Lahey medical building into the senior center at the Butterfield redevelopment in Cold Spring.

After recent bids, a $134,000 gap remained between the $1.231 million budgeted for the senior center work and the $1.365 million low bid by Key Construction Services of Poughkeepsie, according to county documents. Legislature Chairman Joseph Castellano (R-Brewster), said allocating the $300,000 allows the county to accept the bid.

Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, who represents Philipstown, noted that $500,000 of the budget will come from the state through efforts by state Assembly Member Sandy Galef, and state Sen. Sue Serino, whose districts include Philipstown. “That took a big burden off taxpayers,” she said.

In a letter to the Legislature, County Executive MaryEllen Odell said she wants the “beautiful, state-of-the-art senior facility” to also accommodate county health department programs and other services “mostly available on the eastern side of the county” at present.

At the end of the meeting, during the public comment period, a Carmel resident wondered if there “is a cap on the amount you’re spending? Is there a point where people say … we refuse to pay any more money for the center?”

“We’re going to do our best not to spend all $300,000 of it,” Castellano replied.

However, he emphasized that the public comment period is only for someone to “tell us you like what we did or you don’t like what we did” during the meeting.

If someone has questions, “we can certainly have a conversation online,” or the person can “come to our committee meetings,” he said.

When a reporter also posed a question, he answered reluctantly but repeated his admonition. “Again, this is a question you can ask us before the meeting, after the meeting, at our committee meetings,” he said.

In the past, legislators have allowed questions during public comments.

Lynne Eckhardt, a member of Southeast’s Town Board, urged them to reconsider their current policy. “Tonight is a perfect example why you should have” questions, she said. “When reporters and other people want answers and this is your only televised meeting,” the comment period becomes “a really important time for you guys to be able to communicate with the public.”

The next day, Castellano clarified his stance in emails. “Certainly, from time to time, questions are asked at the public comment period and a legislator may jump in and answer,” he wrote. “I completely believe that government needs to be open and transparent but also believe we are governed by the rules that are in place to protect the process.”

He maintained that questions from the public are better addressed at committee meetings because department heads often attend these and legislators “can get their input or at least do the research” to provide answers.

4 thoughts on “Putnam OKs Money for Senior Center

  1. This project has been stalled for so long what do people think? Costs go up. You can’t have seniors moving into a center without a kitchen or furniture. This center is needed with the senior population growing here in Putnam. Let’s see what Rep. Sean Patrick Mahoney will give to our center — this is right in his home turf. It might help reduce this expenditure.

  2. The Odell floodgates on spending are open, facilitated by the closed-mouth legislators who see nothing and want to know nothing, certainly not from the public.

  3. Putnam County’s lease for the senior center planned at the Butterfield site in Cold Spring is a sweetheart deal for a campaign donor to County Executive MaryEllen Odell.

    Under bizarre lease terms that since April 2017 have had the county paying for an unfinished space it cannot occupy, we have already given the developer $132,000 in rent and common-area maintenance fees. Taxpayers have also given him $61,000 in “extra first-year rent.” What this additional money is for has not been revealed. That’s nearly $200,000 to date in public money for rent alone.

    In addition to rent, the public has paid estimated taxes of $30,000, and will continue to do so each year of the lease term. This makes no sense for a public facility. All told, Odell has committed taxpayers to a triple-net lease that will cost us $2.85 million over a 15-year term. And that $2.85 million doesn’t include any build-out and furnishing of the space — we still need to create the senior center. Our $2.85 million doesn’t get us any closer to the facilities our seniors have been promised.

    Butterfield’s owner is Peekskill developer Paul Guillaro. His Unicorn Contracting has been a significant donor to Odell’s campaigns. In addition to the rent he will be paid, the build-out of his space will be taxpayer-funded — the public will pay to increase his property’s value.

    No one would tolerate this kind of waste in the private sector. If this deal were being made in the business world, the negotiating parties for the tenant would lose their jobs. The public deserves the same accountability for their hard-earned money. This is nothing but a sweetheart deal.

    On May 1, the County Legislature approved another $300,000 of public funds to cover a shortfall to pay selected contractor Key Construction Services, purchase kitchen equipment, furniture and fixtures and add in a 5 percent “contingency fee.” This brings the public’s out-of-pocket costs for the retrofitting of the Lahey Pavilion to more than $1.5 million. Between the lease and the build-out, the public will pay more than $4 million and have no asset at the end of the lease term.

    No sensible business owner would take on this bloated project. Butterfield is a bad deal for thousands of taxpayers and a great deal for a single campaign donor. Putnam residents deserve better.

    Fleming, the Kent supervisor, is challenging Odell for county executive.

  4. Typical Putnam County government politics. The politicians continue to line their friends’ pockets with taxpayer money. The names and faces change but the politics and corruption stays the same.