Catching Up with the Putnam Legislature

Lawmakers consider 911 merger, public comment and other issues

By Holly Crocco

In an effort to consolidate services and provide better coverage, the county is working on a plan to merge the dispatch center at the sheriff’s department with the 911 call center at the county’s Bureau of Emergency Services (BES).

The project would involve increasing the number of consoles at the Emergency Operations Center at the BES, located on Old Route 6 in Carmel, to 12 from six to accommodate the sheriff’s dispatchers, Commissioner Ken Clair explained on Feb. 13 during the county’s Protective Services Committee meeting.

The dispatchers would be within earshot of one another, explained Sgt. Matthew Monroe of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, “so if there’s something hot going on, our dispatchers can hear it and they can relay that information immediately rather than 911 having to pick up the phone and saying, ‘This is an update… this is an update…’”

According to Monroe, all of the dispatchers would be cross-trained in each department’s operations.

“Our [sheriff’s] dispatchers do not have the level of training and expertise that the 911 dispatchers have, certainly in the fire and EMS fields,” he explained. “There’s a lot for everybody to learn, so it’s a big undertaking.”

According to Clair, 911 calls placed in Putnam County are answered at the BES. The dispatcher alerts the police and/or fire personnel nearest the caller’s location. The BES dispatchers handle calls that are EMS or fire related and transfer those that require the police to the county, town or village law enforcement.

Once the call is transferred to the police, the conversation between the caller and the new dispatcher often has to start all over again, explained Monroe. In addition, calls have been dropped, he said. “The complications are considerable,” he said.

Legislator Neal Sullivan (R-Mahopac) said it sounded like it would be a “highly technical and complex merger. We need some more information and background, and some figures on potential savings and costs involved.”

New health chief

Dr. Michael Nesheiwat, who has been the county’s interim health commissioner for the past four years, is expected on March 5 to be approved by the legislature to take the job. His appointment was approved by the Personnel Committee on Feb. 13 and sent to the full legislature.

“Dr. Mike,” as he is known, has had a full plate. He is one of three elected county coroners and acts as the medical director on weekends at the Putnam County jail. The Carmel resident recently gave up his family medicine practice and is no longer head of the medical staff at Putnam Hospital Center, which was a position he had held since 1992. He is also no longer on the hospital’s board of directors.

“I know there were some conversations [about his many roles] going on before his appointment, and I just wanted to say I’m in favor of appointing Dr. Nesheiwat,” said Legislator Nancy Montgomery (D-Philipstown). “I’m confident that his responsibilities in his other practices have sort of taken a turn where he’s going to be able to commit more time to the county, and I don’t think we can ask for a better director of the health department.

“I’m really looking forward to working with him because many of those programs that he is responsible for, I will be talking to him about bringing them over to Philipstown and Putnam Valley,” she said.

Public comment

After a discussion during the Feb. 19 Rules Committee meeting, Putnam legislators said they would continue to only allow public comment at the end of their formal monthly meetings, after votes are taken. They encouraged residents to attend committee meetings to share their views.

“Committee meetings are really the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the legislative work,” said Legislator Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson). (To view the legislative calendar, see putnamcountyny.com.)

Sullivan said the reason for limiting public comment at the full Legislature meeting is for efficiency. “We need to keep control over the meeting to stay on point, to keep the discussion moving forward and not to get drawn off onto some side discussion,” he said.

Legislature Chairman Joseph Castellano (R-Brewster) said the Legislature allows plenty of time for public discussion on every item it addresses. “In the seven years I’ve been here we’ve never rushed any committee meeting – everybody’s had a chance to speak,” he said.

Legislator Carl Albano (R-Carmel) suggested that an explanation be posted on the Legislature’s website describing how the process works. “I guess the real problem is when people come to the full meeting, they think it’s a good time to discuss all of this,” he said. “That’s where the real confusion is.”

Montgomery, the newest member of the board, said she would like to see public comment also allowed at the beginning of full legislative meetings. “To build a stronger, better Putnam, we need the participation of citizens – we need their ideas, we need their comments, we need their concerns,” she said. “We can’t limit them to just the committee meetings.”

Tilly Foster plans

Pick-your-own fruit, hens and greenhouses are all part of the five-year plan at the county-owned Tilly Foster Farm and Educational Institute in Brewster, according to farmer Donald Arrant, who updated legislators during the Feb. 19 Physical Services Committee meeting.

The farm provides produce to Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES for its culinary classes, as well as the Office for Senior Resources and the Tilly’s Table restaurant. In 2018 the farm grew more than 35 varieties of vegetables and flowers on a third of an acre, selling about $15,000 worth of produce to Tilly’s Table and OSR.

Arrant said the soil at the farm is extremely fertile, and farmers haven’t had to lay down compost or fertilizers. “We’re going to begin the process of organic certification, which usually takes three years,” he explained.

Work will begin this year on a $7,000 greenhouse, which Arrant said will give the farm “a leg up on the season.” It will be paid for by the state Soil and Water Conservation District.

Arrant said the farm will be expanding operations to three-quarters of an acre, doubling its vegetable production and opening up vegetables to you-pick customers. Four varieties of strawberries will be planted, as well as raspberries that will be ready for picking in 2020. The farm also plans next year to add 200 laying hens and a hoop house for root crops.

“Every time I’m on the farm I watch the traffic that passes by and I think to myself, How can we get those people onto the farm?” Arrant said.

Veterans’ counseling

Karl Rohde, director of the Veterans Service Agency, asked lawmakers at the Feb. 19 Rules Committee meeting to urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo to restore funding for the Joseph P. Dwyer Vet 2 Vet Program to his proposed 2019 budget.

“For the second time in the last two years, the governor has failed to include the Dwyer funding in his proposed budget,” said Rohde. “Through intense lobbying we were able to get the money back in the budget last year, but this should not be an annual burden for the veteran community.”

The governor has proposed cutting $3.4 million for the program, of which Putnam County receives $185,000 annually. The 2018 funding continues through June 30.

According to Rohde, the state has slowly been “pulling back” support for veterans over the years. He said his agency once had a state veterans’ service officer on-site two days a week, assisting 16 veterans a day. Now, an officer is on-site eight hours over two days, assisting about three veterans per day.

The program was launched in four counties in 2012 and has since expanded to 23. In Putnam, a full-time coordinator and a few part-time veterans arrange programs and services for veterans and their families. This includes assisting veterans struggling with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and addiction; helping veterans apply for benefits; and promoting social activities such as movie screenings and trips to Hudson Valley Renegades games.

Castellano suggested the Legislature draft letters to state representatives, urging them to fight for the funding. State Sen. Sue Serino, whose district includes Philipstown, Putnam Valley and Kent, said she is working to get the money restored.

CCE programs

Stefanie Hubert, the new executive director the Cornell Cooperative Extension for Putnam County, explained to legislators at their Feb. 19 Rules Committee meeting how it spends the $325,000 provided annually by the county for its programs.

Some of the initiatives Hubert said the extension will focus on in the coming year include nutrition, food safety and security, and obesity prevention, calling the later an “epidemic” that is targeting younger residents.

In addition, the extension plans to get involved in educating residents about the dangers of opioids. It also will team up the Veterans Service Agency to create a therapeutic gardening program.

The extension has three paid staff members who work with about 340 volunteers, plus an additional 480 volunteers who assist with the annual 4-H fair, she said. It also receives state and federal funding.

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