Putnam legislator questions response to visitors
Nancy Montgomery, who represents Philipstown on the Putnam County Legislature, this week questioned whether Cold Spring has sufficient law enforcement to handle the crowds descending on the village despite social-distancing regulations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Montgomery, the panel’s sole Democrat, raised the issue on Tuesday (May 5) at the Legislature’s monthly meeting, conducted via audio connection.
Even with the closing of nearby state park trails, the visitors “just keep coming,” she said. “Our Main Street was overrun” over the May 2-3 weekend, with many tourists failing to maintain a 6-foot distance, she said. She predicted the crowds would only grow.
“Our businesses need customers and our residents desperately need services,” but constituents also worry about their safety, said Montgomery, who on Saturday (May 2) distributed masks on Main Street with Putnam County Sheriff Robert Langley, who lives in Philipstown.
(On Wednesday, Larry Burke, the officer-in-charge of the Cold Spring Police Department, said the Village Board has decided to close the bandstand and dock area as well as Dockside Park this Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. because of a lack of social distancing by weekend visitors. The 10 a.m. closure is to allow residents to walk their dogs at Dockside earlier in the morning, he said.)
Cold Spring has only part-time officers and limited coverage from the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department, which has one patrol that covers Philipstown and one that rotates between Philipstown and Putnam Valley.
That level of policing “is not enough with the influx of people we see every weekend, in the thousands,” Montgomery said. “Law enforcement, both in the village and in the Sheriff’s Department, have way too much to handle.
“I’m asking for more enforcement,” she said. “I don’t want to see a resurgence of infection even before we fully understand what our Putnam outbreak is” with limited testing and contact tracing. “I’m reaching out to my colleagues for help.”
Her colleagues made no promises. But several expressed anxiety about the toll of the pandemic and restrictions, and praised residents for complying with the mask-wearing and social-distancing rules.
Legislator Neal Sullivan (R-Mahopac) added his voice to those of the Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell and state Sen. Sue Serino in urging his colleagues to lobby Albany to not group Putnam with Westchester and Rockland counties in the plans to slowly reopen the state.
On Monday (May 4), Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to reopen region by region, based on certain criteria such as hospital capacity. Putnam is included in the Mid-Hudson region with Sullivan, Ulster, Dutchess, Orange, Rockland and Westchester counties, its partners in the Mid-Hudson Economic Development Council.
In early April, the Putnam Legislature allocated $221,144 to purchase protective gear and cleaning supplies to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
On Tuesday (May 5), Bill Carlin, Putnam’s finance commissioner, said the county has so far spent about $69,000 of that money, with commitments to spend another $77,000 as soon as more protective gear is available for purchase.
He said the county money has purchased 24,400 disposable face masks, 8,000 higher-grade face masks; 2,000 disposable gowns, 16,000 gloves and 1,300 face shields for distribution by the Bureau of Emergency Services.
Sullivan said the Legislature should tell state officials that “we don’t think Putnam belongs” with Westchester and Rockland.
“We certainly do not have the number of cases and the illnesses or deaths” of counties closer to New York City, he said. “It’s time to lessen the restrictions on our local businesses so they can go back to making a living and support their families.”
Legislator Paul Jonke (R-Southeast) said everybody in Putnam “is wearing their mask. Everybody is social distancing. Everybody gets it here. That’s one of the reasons we’re on track to get our small businesses back.”
Odell on Wednesday (May 6) wrote a letter to state Sen. Peter Harckham, who represents eastern Putnam, urging the state to divide the Mid-Hudson group, with Westchester and Rockland forming a southern section and Putnam, Dutchess, Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster counties remaining in a northern section.
“While all cases of infections and deaths from COVID-19 are undoubtedly devastating, our numbers in Putnam County are exponentially lower than our southern neighbors’ and to a great extent have been isolated to our senior population with underlying health issues,” Odell wrote. “Therefore, we should be placed in a position where we should be allowed to safely reopen and move toward dealing with the immense economic toll this is taking upon our families.”
Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea, who has been critical of the county response, said in an email on May 7, “with the very limited number of residents that have been tested in Putnam, how can anyone say with surety that we don’t have a higher rate of infection than neighboring communities? Without large-scale testing, tracking, and a clearly articulated plan, this is bound to cause much more suffering.”