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Money would come from federal COVID relief
A Putnam County legislative committee this week unanimously voted to use $400,000 in federal COVID-19 relief for asbestos removal and repairs at the Putnam County Golf Course, clearing the way for approval by the full Legislature, which meets Tuesday (Feb. 1).
Convening by audio connection on Monday (Jan. 24), the three-man Audit Committee acted despite a protest from Legislator Nancy Montgomery and questions posed by Cold Spring Mayor Kathleen Foley in a letter that the committee declined to consider.
Committee members and county officials said federal rules allow use of American Rescue Plan Act pandemic relief funds for the work, which must proceed immediately, before the golf season begins in the spring.
Putnam is expecting to receive $19 million in ARPA assistance. It received the first $9.5 million payment last summer.
Montgomery questioned spending federal aid for projects at a golf course whose 2021 revenue exceeded predictions. “Let it pay for itself,” she urged. “Why are we going into American Rescue Plan funds meant for critical infrastructure projects and supporting our communities?”
Officials in Dutchess County received similar pushback when they said in June they planned to spend 20 percent of its $57 million in relief funding on improvements at Dutchess Stadium, which it leases to a minor league baseball team, the Hudson Valley Renegades.
“I’m a baseball fan but, please, let’s not put this public money toward this,” Nick Page, a Democratic county legislator whose district includes three wards in Beacon, said at the time. “Don’t give our pennies to this when there are people who are still hurting” from the pandemic.
At the Jan. 24 meeting, Katherine Hanrahand, the Putnam golf course manager, reported that its 2021 budget anticipated income of $1.22 million from golf but instead produced $1.56 million. However, restaurant operations, expected to generate $1.08 million, brought in only $1.04 million. Nonetheless, Hanrahand stated, the golf and restaurant operation together realized a profit of $271,667.
Aside from deploying income from its golfing and restaurant activities, Montgomery recalled that the golf course can tap a special account, with an undisclosed balance, into which the county annually dumps $250,000 for the facility’s projects.
“It is a good point,” replied county Finance Commissioner Bill Carlin. However, he explained, for the upcoming work, “we just thought using American Rescue Plan funds would be easier” than dipping into other coffers. But if the Legislature “doesn’t want to use ARPA, we don’t have to.” Carlin described the course as “a gateway to tourism and recreation in the county” and said its appeal is likely to increase since the closing last fall of The Garrison golf course. “We really need to reinvest in this facility,” he said.
Montgomery, the lone Democrat on the otherwise all-Republican, nine-member Legislature, also asked how Putnam “is distributing these funds equally throughout the county for tourism.” Her district covers part of Putnam Valley and all of Philipstown, including Cold Spring, a busy visitor attraction. Officials in both towns have asked about Putnam’s plans, she said.
In her letter, Foley, who did not participate in the audio meeting, told the committee that she thought ARPA money was for “recovery from the economic impact of COVID-19, as well as for infrastructure repair.” Towns and villages need “public water system upgrades, repairs to infrastructure — including areas heavily trafficked by tourism — and critical storm-preparedness,” she wrote. “How will constituents in Cold Spring benefit from the ARPA money the county received? What is the process for determining use of the funds? Who is making those determinations, and what part of the process will be open to public comment?”
When Montgomery attempted to discuss such concerns, Legislator Neal Sullivan of Carmel-Mahopac cut her off. Sullivan, who chairs the Legislature, presided at the committee session. The mayor’s letter arrived at 4 p.m., too late for review that day, he said. “We will, I’m sure, have ample time to discuss these [local issues] with the administration” of County Executive MaryEllen Odell.
On another financial topic, Carlin reported that Putnam’s 2021 sales tax revenue was $78 million — the highest in 12 years, according to a county chart. Putnam had estimated $59.7 million in sales tax in 2021.
“We had a phenomenal year, but we have to view it in context,” Carlin said. He observed that sales tax boomed from May through October before dropping and that “we’re cautiously optimistic for 2022.”
Montgomery said the county should remember the sales tax haul “when thinking about how to support local municipalities and businesses.” Unlike many other counties, Putnam does not return a portion of sales tax revenue to the villages and towns where it is generated.
In other business, the Audit Committee approved spending $336,000 for COVID-19 testing in Philipstown and Carmel through February, although Carlin said testing might not be required that long.