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Legislators like county projects, not process
Putnam’s Legislature unanimously agreed Tuesday (July 5) to allocate more than $1 million to Philipstown and its municipalities, through county distribution of $10 million in American Rescue Plan COVID relief funding and sales tax revenue.
The move provides $739,341 to Philipstown, $203,342 to Cold Spring and $63,890 to Nelsonville for infrastructure projects, such as upgrading the town’s problem-prone Garrison Water District; repairing Cold Spring’s 19th-century dams; and studying the feasibility of a sewer system in Nelsonville.
Taking action during their monthly meeting in Carmel, the legislators subsequently voted 9-0 to approve County Executive MaryEllen Odell’s plan for using $14 million from ARP for county-level projects, after its committees had discussed her proposal in preceding weeks.
Odell’s county-level allocations include $2.5 million for a mental health crisis intervention-stabilization center; $2.5 million for an integrated police and fire department radio system; and $2 million for school safety, a topic of heightened interest following recent gun massacres.
Despite the unanimous votes, some legislators, plus some elected officials from Philipstown, protested that Odell provided too little detail and allowed them, and their constituents, too little input.
Noting that the county executive had been cutting services, as in the 2021 elimination of Sheriff’s Department boat patrols on the Hudson River, Legislator Nancy Montgomery, the Legislature’s sole Democrat, questioned the methodology behind Odell’s selections.
No detailed, written proposals accompanied those picks, said Montgomery, whose district covers Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley. She also again pointed out that the county declined to assist some local mental health and substance-abuse agencies but now wants to create its own 24-hour urgent care facility.
As legislators, “we were not included” adequately in the planning, she said. “It’s not that I disapprove of the projects” Odell chose, Montgomery explained. “It’s that I don’t approve of the process.”
Legislator Paul Jonke of Southeast similarly objected that insufficient county vetting took place, whether for county-level projects or some favored by municipalities. “It’s reckless,” he claimed. Putnam sought “no public input” and “none of us was asked for input,” he said.
“There should have been public hearings,” Legislator William Gouldman of Putnam Valley added.
Philipstown Supervisor John Van Tassel thanked the county for its assistance and assured legislators that “we did work very hard” in choosing town projects. However, like Montgomery and Jonke, he asked “where the detail will come” from to flesh out the county’s own choices, since at present it “seems to be lacking.” He further asked whether the county executive alone would grant final approval as county-level projects take shape or if the Legislature would participate, as well.
Legislator Neal Sullivan of Carmel-Mahopac, who chairs the Legislature, replied that “everything would have to come back to us, and we would be provided more detail,” as with regular county projects, “and at that point we would approve the spending again.”
Cold Spring Mayor Kathleen Foley expressed gratitude for the equipment coming to village police and fire departments under the $2.5 million radio project. Yet, she said, “I hope the public could have more clarity” on it, since a county-wide emergency radio system has long been discussed but never implemented. She told the legislators that, according to information from the county finance office, over recent years “$12 million has already come in; $8.5 million has been spent; [and] $2.7 million has been encumbered. Where has that money gone? Why do we not yet have the radios?”
But the county earned praise for its new willingness to share sales tax, which towns and villages have “begged for” since at least 2007, said Montgomery.
Philipstown Town Board Member Jason Angell proposed that Putnam make the policy permanent. Doing so “aligns the interests of the county and the towns and villages,” he said.
Sullivan replied that “we’re in a position now to be able” to act and that sharing sales tax, like divvying up some county ARP money among municipalities, “is wonderful.”
Montgomery and Sullivan likewise both pointed out — with apparent surprise and pleasure — that, when it comes to sales-tax sharing, they think alike. (Often, they clash, to the point that each in late June suggested that the other be kicked out of the Legislature.)