Tobacco 21 Bill Back to Committee

Also, county books get good review

By Holly Crocco

The Putnam County Legislature tabled a proposal to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products and accessories from 18 to 21, with most lawmakers saying it needed fine-tuning.

During the Sept. 4 Legislature meeting, Paul Jonke (R-Southeast) moved to delay a vote to give lawmakers an opportunity to “take another look” at the proposal, make revisions, and consider it again at the October meeting.

Barbara Scuccimarra (R-Philipstown), who is chairwoman of the Legislature’s Health Committee as well as chairwoman of the One Army in the War on Addiction Task Force, expressed frustration with her colleagues.

“To say that I’m disappointed is an understatement,” she said. “We have been discussing this since April. This wasn’t my idea, this was the task force putting forth this law to help the whole county and what they’re going through with addiction.”

Legislator Neal Sullivan (R-Mahopac) said he planned to support the legislation once it is revised. “As a conservative Republican, I am one who is not in favor generally of adding rules and regulations on people’s lives and telling them how to live,” he said. “But over the course of the last month I’ve listened to the experts and the residents of the community and heard what you’ve all said.”

Legislator Toni Addonizio (R-Kent) voiced concerns over the “hefty” fine of up to $1,000 per violation that would be placed on business owners and employees who violate the law.

Legislator Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson) spoke in opposition to the proposed law.

“For me this is just as much philosophical as it is a debate on the merits of the law,” she said. “I do not believe the rhetoric that fines and bans will reduce young adults from buying tobacco products. If that was the case, underage drinking and drugs would not be so prevalent in our county and beyond.”

She added that it is not government’s job to take on a parental role.

“Tobacco 21 advocates are sending the message that our 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds are incapable of making sound decisions,” she said, noting that at age 18, individuals can vote, serve in the armed forces, pay taxes, get married and encumber student debt – and if they commit a crime, they are convicted as an adult.

Further, Nacerino said the law would put another burden on local businesses.

“Now we are not only going to restrict free enterprise, but we are going to fine, punish and embarrass our businesses, as well,” she said.

“The role of our health committee should be to develop policy and use effective strategies for public benefit, such as education and awareness, rather than to regulate private conduct and impose bans,” Nacerino said.

The motion to table the proposal passed 6-3, with Bill Gouldman (R-Putnam Valley) and Carl Albano (R-Carmel) joining Scuccimarra in calling for an immediate vote.

Healthy numbers

Putnam County has received positive feedback from the independent accounting firm PKF O’Connor Davies, which was hired by the Legislature to audit the county’s financial statements for 2017.

“The county again has been awarded an award for excellence in financial reporting by the Government Finance Officers Association in Chicago,” said Nick DeSantis, a partner at O’Connor Davies, during the Legislature’s Aug. 23 Audit Committee meeting.

“Not many municipalities in the State of New York receive this award and it speaks very well for your finance team,” he said.

He pointed out that the county’s fund balance increased from $34.8 million in 2014 to $39.7 million in 2017. “That’s a significant increase,” he said.

Partner Alan Kassay noted the county, by eliminating its short-term debt and reducing its long-term debt, had saved taxpayers about $157,000 a year in interest payments.

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