New initiative, Parent As Driving Partners

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell is pleased to announce a new initiative, Parent As Driving Partners, at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, February 25, 2020, in the lobby of the Putnam County Office Building, 40 Gleneida Avenue, Carmel, New York.

Parents As Driving Partners is a partnership of the Putnam County Clerk, Putnam County Probation STOP-DWI, Putnam County Sheriff, Putnam County Traffic Safety Board and the Putnam County Youth Bureau. This new initiative emphasizes the role of parents in promoting safe driving habits in teens. The Youth Bureau has developed a booklet that contains some basic guidelines to help parents in their role as driving partners and includes a Parent/Teen Driving Agreement. This agreement outlines the responsibilities of both parents and teens in promoting safe driving.

Crashes are still the leading cause of teen deaths and 6 out of 10 teen crashes involve driver distraction. One-third of deaths among 13 to 19 year-olds occur in motor vehicle crashes and 16 year olds have higher crash rate than drivers of any other age.

The Putnam County Department of Motor Vehicles will be distributing this booklet to parents of teens applying for their learning permit and asking that they sign the Parent/Teen Driving Agreement.
The booklet and agreement will also be available at the Putnam County Youth Bureau as part of a comprehensive program addressing safe driving which also includes the SIDNE (Simulated Impaired Driving Experience) required by all county high schools in order to qualify for a school parking space.

Please join us on February 25th and help make Putnam County a better place for youth and their families.

Governor’s proposed Medicaid funding changes

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell wants to voice her concern about the impact our communities would feel if the governor’s proposed Medicaid funding changes are enacted.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he wants the state’s 62 counties to contribute an additional $150 million to pay for Medicaid’s skyrocketing costs. The counties enroll Medicaid recipients, but because we don’t set the eligibility guidelines, we are not responsible for the increase.

“Here in Putnam we take care of our most vulnerable citizens, and will always make sure they get the services they need,” Odell said. “But if the state shifts the cost of that care to the counties, we will have to make other cuts that will devastate our budget and hurt our communities.”

Putnam is not the only county on the brink of hardship if the funding change is enacted. Odell is in contact with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who sits on the governor’s Medicaid Redesign Team, and he has heard Putnam’s concerns from many others.

In 2012, to help counties and local governments adhere to the 2% property tax cap, Governor Cuomo and State Lawmakers enacted a zero growth Medicaid cap. The cap helped counties stabilize and, in several cases, reduce county property tax rate levies.

We are asking the governor and state legislature to keep the zero growth Medicaid cap.

“As we have always done, counties stand united behind lowering the cost of Medicaid and improving the quality of care for those in need,” said New York State Association of Counties President John F. Marren, the Ontario County Chair. “However, any state Medicaid proposal must protect local taxpayers and services by keeping the current cost control caps in place.”

State Sen. Pete Harckham who represents Putnam County as well as parts of Westchester and Dutchess counties, said the state should look for more reasonable approaches to closing the budget gap before turning to already overburdened taxpayers.

“With the share of Medicaid costs in New York State making up about half of every county’s tax bill, no one should expect our hard-working property owners to foot an even larger share in order to close the state’s budget deficit,” said Harckham, a member of the Senate’s Local Government Committee. “Not when New York’s local government already pay the highest share of Medicaid costs in the country.”

 

New York is one of the few states in the nation to require county funds to cover the cost of Medicaid, and the only one that required county taxpayers to fund a full half of the State’s share when it was implemented in 1966. Today, counties and New York City fund $7.6 billion of the state’s more than $70 billion Medicaid program.

It’s undeniable that Medicaid costs have increased. In Putnam alone, the costs have risen by $4 million from 2018 to 2019.

Before 2015 in Putnam County, about 5,000 residents were enrolled in Medicaid. By July, 2019 the county had 13,114 Medicaid recipients.

None of these cost or enrollment increases are the result of Putnam County policy.

The governor has suggested the counties can find the extra funds by being ferreting out waste.

Putnam County has already done that.

A few years back, the county brought in consultants who worked with the Department of Social Services to flag suspected fraud. Upon inspection, some well-to-do residents did, in fact, seem to be abusing the system. By taking reverse mortgages on expensive homes, writing off investments as losses and hiding assets in untouchable retirement accounts, they qualified for Medicaid. But here’s the surprising thing: That’s all legal.  If the state closed its gaping loopholes, it could save some money.

During Odell’s tenure, the county has adopted eight budgets that were each under the state property tax cap. Putnam officials are not spendthrifts. We look after our taxpayers’ interests by spending conservatively.

To stay below the state’s 2 percent property tax cap, Putnam can only raise its spending by $1.2 million in this fiscal year.  But if the state shifts its Medicaid costs onto our backs, it will eat up a significant portion of our spending.

The bottom line is, if this shift in Medicaid costs goes through, Putnam’s outside agencies will see funding cuts and our aging infrastructure will continue to crumble.

We ask the Governor and the state Legislature to keep the zero Medicaid growth cap and work with the counties to find a way to solve the problem.

March 1st ban single-use plastic bags

It’s time for Putnam County residents to remember to bring their own reusable bags with them when they go shopping, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell said.

“Starting March 1, a New York State law will ban single-use plastic bags,” said Putnam County Legislature Chairwoman Toni Addonizio. “Retailers in Putnam, and throughout the state, will no longer be able to provide plastic bags to customers for carrying their goods.”

Jane Meunier, solid waste management program coordinator for the Putnam County Department of Health, praised the new law.

“It is our goal for Putnam County to not only embrace recycling initiatives such as this but to make our County an example of how to improve and be at the forefront in the recycling and solid waste management field,” Meunier said. “We all need to do our part.  The inconvenience of bringing your own reusable bags for shopping cannot compare to the devastation that single-use plastic bags cause to our environment – and specifically our beautiful Putnam County!”

Reusable shopping bags are sturdy, washable and hold more, if you can remember to bring them, Amy Sayegh, chairwoman of the Legislature’s Health Committee said.

“This is an important law for the state, the county and, of course, the planet,” Sayegh said.

There are some exemptions from the state ban, including dry cleaning bags, newspaper delivery bags and bags used by customers to package fruits, vegetables or other loose items.  But now is a good time to think ahead to reduce other plastic waste, said Victoria DiLonardo, Recycling Educator for the Putnam County Department of Health.

“After it becomes a habit to bring your shopping bags with you to the store, try switching to reusable produce bags,” DiLonardo said. “And once that becomes a habit, try bringing your own travel mug to the coffee shop, and so on. If we can all make small steps towards creating less plastic waste, it will make a big difference.”

 

,” said Putnam County Legislature Chairwoman Toni Addonizio. “Retailers in Putnam, and throughout the state, will no longer be able to provide plastic bags to customers for carrying their goods.”

Jane Meunier, solid waste management program coordinator for the Putnam County Department of Health, praised the new law.

“It is our goal for Putnam County to not only embrace recycling initiatives such as this but to make our County an example of how to improve and be at the forefront in the recycling and solid waste management field,” Meunier said. “We all need to do our part.  The inconvenience of bringing your own reusable bags for shopping cannot compare to the devastation that single-use plastic bags cause to our environment – and specifically our beautiful Putnam County!”

Reusable shopping bags are sturdy, washable and hold more, if you can remember to bring them, Amy Sayegh, chairwoman of the Legislature’s Health Committee said.

“This is an important law for the state, the county and, of course, the planet,” Sayegh said.

There are some exemptions from the state ban, including dry cleaning bags, newspaper delivery bags and bags used by customers to package fruits, vegetables or other loose items.  But now is a good time to think ahead to reduce other plastic waste, said Victoria DiLonardo, Recycling Educator for the Putnam County Department of Health.

“After it becomes a habit to bring your shopping bags with you to the store, try switching to reusable produce bags,” DiLonardo said. “And once that becomes a habit, try bringing your own travel mug to the coffee shop, and so on. If we can all make small steps towards creating less plastic waste, it will make a big difference.”

Travel Channel star and “Mysteries at the Museum” host Don Wildman stopped by the Putnam History Museum

Travel Channel star and “Mysteries at the Museum” host Don Wildman stopped by the Putnam History Museum in Cold Spring last week.  While there he took in some of the great West Point Foundry history on exhibit.  Wildman, a Hudson Valley resident, was in Cold Spring to meet Mary Jean Cerbini, 5th grade teacher at Austin Road Elementary School in Mahopac, and Jennifer Cassidy of the Putnam County Historian’s Office, to review the Museum’s local history collection with Executive Director Cassie Ward.  Cerbini and Wildman are developing a project to incorporate Putnam County artifacts into local history lessons.

While at the Museum, Wildman spent time speaking with museum visitors about his television work and world travels including his recent trip to Honduras for a new, still to be named series on the Travel Channel.

The Putnam History Museum has limited winter hours but exhibit viewing and the research library are available by appointment and select Saturdays. It is located at 63 Chestnut Street, Cold Spring, NY 10516. Call 845-265-4010 or visit www.putnamhistorymuseum.org for more information.

Grand opening of the fully renovated senior citizens center in Carmel

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell, was joined by county Legislators, state lawmakers, members of her administration and county employees for the grand opening of the fully renovated and expanded senior citizens center in Carmel.

The Carmel Friendship Center, housed in the Donald B. Smith Government Campus on Old Route 6, opened Thursday, Dec. 19 after an 18-month renovation.

“This facility was once a school and now it’s a senior center, the circle of life,” County Executive Odell said to the dozens of seniors who attended. “The challenges of the structure took us a little longer than anticipated. As a school, the building had narrow hallways and small classrooms.  We knew that you guys wanted some space, you wanted to walk in comfort and be able to enjoy each other’s company while doing yoga, tai chi or shooting some pool, whatever you really want to do. Now you have the space to do it. “

The bright and airy 6,000 square foot Friendship Center now includes a restaurant-sized dining room where more than 100 seniors can be comfortably served, an exercise room for yoga, tai chi and Zumba dancing, a game room with a billiard table, and a cozy sitting area where seniors can relax around a gas fireplace.  A nutrition office, Medicare counselor and case worker will also be on site.

Before the renovation, the building housed a smaller senior center and several administrative offices. During the renovation, the senior citizens center was housed at the Knights of Columbus in Carmel.

“This was very high on my priority list when I took office and I know that my fellow legislators feel the same way,” Odell said.  “We recognize and appreciate our seniors. They are our teachers, they’re our mentors, they’re our grandparents and they’re our neighbors. You guys are important to this county for everything that you’ve done and everything you continue to do with your volunteering. It was very important that we build you a space that you could appreciate and that you wanted to come to.”

Michael Cunningham, Director of the Office for Senior Resources, noted that this was a big year for the office.

“We celebrated our 50th anniversary this year,” he said. “We also opened up, just before the year began, our Friendship Center in Philipstown. And now we are here to celebrate the opening of the Carmel Friendship Center.

“One of the worst things for seniors is isolation or loneliness,” Cunningham said. “What we are trying to do is make sure that by offering these services, with good nutrition and a lot of activities, we prevent that. If you look at the name of this facility, we call it the Carmel Friendship Center and that’s what we’re all about.”

Putnam County Revised Budget Transfer

Public safety has always been the Putnam County Legislature’s first priority, but faced with unexpected overtime costs and budget manipulations by the County Sheriff’s Department, the Legislature took a stand to protect taxpayers.

In its December meeting, the Legislature voted overwhelmingly against a last-minute Sheriff’s Department request to transfer $121,115.11 in funds to cover overtime for the road patrol. The money requested had been allocated during the 2019 budget process to cover Sheriff’s Department expenses in 40 different spending categories, not for overtime.

“Public safety is our top priority,” Legislature Chairman Joseph Castellano said. “There has certainly been an increase in overtime and we don’t know why it is going higher and higher every year. We definitely need to have a better conversation with the Sheriff’s Department about that.  Moving money from 40 different budget lines to cover a portion of this overtime is concerning to me, and it should be to all of us.”

The Sheriff’s deputies who worked the overtime have been paid but, in a nearly unanimous vote, the Legislature expressed its displeasure at the Sheriff’s Department’s budget maneuvers.  Only Legislator Nancy Montgomery voted in favor of the transfer.

“No elected official can exceed the budget expense line without consequences,” Legislator Neal Sullivan, who couldn’t attend the meeting, wrote in a statement Castellano read. “The practice of transferring funds from one line to another should be used solely for extenuating circumstances. The systemic use of transferring money to cover overtime has become a major concern. Policies and procedures need to be put in place so we can work together to make sure we are not continually dealing with this.”

The discussion came up as part of an end-of-year budget reconciliation.

“This is not a public safety issue, this is a respect for taxpayers’ issue,” Legislator Paul Jonke said. “We gave him the parameters within which he needed to work.”

Legislator Ginny Nacerino said it was time for the Sheriff’s Department to take a more realistic approach to budgeting.

“It is our job to be good stewards of taxpayer money, and I take that job very seriously,” Nacerino said. “This transfer is not openly transparent. It begs the question of why in the twelfth month of this year there is so much left in these lines and whether these 40 lines were overinflated. We can’t operate like this. It is not best practice.”

“This really boils down to proper planning,” Legislator Carl Albano said. “We should have an idea where the budget is going and it should be in the ballpark. Surprises at the end of the year shouldn’t go down like this.”

“I’m not in favor of moving money around to cover road patrol overtime that has already been incurred,” Legislator Amy Sayegh said. “When we approve the budget for books and postage and furniture it should be used for those purposes and not overinflated to pay for something else down the road. It is understood that we need to pay the deputies for the work they performed and they deserve to be paid. What I have a problem with is deficit scheduling.”

“Moving forward we need policy and procedure to improve the process,” Legislator Toni Addonizio said. “We need more transparency and openness moving forward.”

Just in time: Local History Holiday Gift Guide

BREWSTER, New York — Looking for a unique holiday gift that promotes hometown pride and supports a great cause? Well, look no further! The Putnam County Historian’s Office has curated a gift guide in support of local history, and related historical societies, non-profits and museums. These gifts include T-shirts, mugs, historical prints suitable for framing, books on local history and historical fiction, and the all-important membership packages that help keep these organizations up and running during their pursuit of preserving Putnam County’s rich history.

The organizations include: Boscobel, Carmel Historical Society, Kent Historical Society,
Landmarks Preservation Society of Southeast, Patterson Historical Society, Putnam History Museum in Cold Spring, Putnam Valley Historical Society, and Southeast Museum in Brewster.

“The Local History Holiday Gift Guide not only provides great gift tips but important information on each organization and their mission,” says Jennifer Cassidy of the County Historian’s Office. “Supporting them with the purchase of a T-shirt, book or membership package, all aid their missions of preserving and presenting Putnam’s past.” Complete contact information for the Historian’s Office, societies, and museums is included in the guide.

Book highlights from the guide include: “Vignettes of Patterson’s Past”, a collection of Patterson’s histories by the Society in a hardback book illustrated with maps, photos and more; “History of Putnam County, New York”, by William S. Pelletreau, the quintessential linen bound, local history book reprinted by Landmarks Preservation Society; and the respective societies offer Bicentennial profiles of Town of Kent and Historic Carmel, Mahopac & Mahopac Falls.

Mugs and a wonderful selection of local history books and exhibit catalogues are available at Putnam History Museum while the Southeast Museum offers iconic reprints of the village of Brewster from 1867 and 1870 as well as local historical fiction titles by Putnam County author Deborah Rafferty Oswald.

Know someone who loves baseball? The Putnam Valley Historical Society has a limited run of rare images of Babe Ruth playing baseball at Lake Oscawana, suitable for 8” x 10” framing.

2019 Putnam County Gift Guide – County Historian

 

The guide can also  be viewed online at the Historian’s website

www.putnamcountyny.com/countyhistorian and a limited amount of printed copies are available upon request by calling 845-808-1420 or emailing historian@putnamcountyny.gov.

Putnam County Accepting Applications for 2020 PILOT Program Student Internship Program

Carmel, NY – Putnam students may soon apply for paid and unpaid summer internships in county government through the Putnam Invests in Leaders of Tomorrow (PILOT) Program.  Accepted students gain hands-on professional experience in areas such as finance, criminal justice, engineering, communications, information technology, law, health, psychology and more.

The concept of the PILOT Program was first introduced by County Executive MaryEllen Odell in 2013, with support of the Putnam County Legislature.  “The PILOT program is one of the most important investments that Putnam County makes in its future,” said County Executive MaryEllen Odell. “We are introducing the workings of county government to the next generation and giving our youth a professional experience that may impact the career they choose to pursue.”

Eligible participants must be Putnam County residents who are graduate, college, or high school students in their junior or senior year.  For college students, a GPA of 3.0 or higher is recommended.

Applicants must complete and submit all application materials online beginning November 25, 2019 through January 31, 2020. Filing instructions are posted on the Putnam County website at www.putnamcountyny.com/internapply.

For more information, contact Adriene Iasoni, Putnam County Personnel at 845-808-1650 ext. 46625 or adriene.iasoni@putnamcountyny.gov

NYSEG Falls Short

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell blasted NYSEG for its poor performance and lack of communication during a windstorm that left thousands of residents without power and without a clue as to when it would be restored.

Even Putnam’s Bureau of Emergency Services couldn’t reach NYSEG during the height of the windstorm, which began Thursday evening.

“NYSEG’s response is completely unacceptable,” Odell said. “The company left residents in potential danger and left our emergency response teams without support.  This is a public utility and communication with the emergency service agencies that protect the public is paramount. Not to mention that the company is obligated to let residents – their ratepayers — know where the power is out and when it will be restored.”

NYSEG reported to the state Office of Emergency Management that only five customers were out in Putnam County, when there were actually 2,709 customers without power as of 11 a.m. Friday.

Odell said she expects NYSEG to provide a complete accounting of its slow response and breakdown in communications before the winter storm season begins.

“Every storm we get, it’s the same thing,” State Assemblyman Kevin Byrne said. “The utility’s lack of response is, unfortunately, not unusual.”

State Sen. Pete Harckham called NYSEG “the poster child for bad performing public utilities.”

 

“I would have hoped that experiences from several prior storms, all much more severe than what occurred last night, would have resulted in better preparations for downed lines, better communications with affected municipalities and better responses for customers,” Harckham said. “Again, NYSEG has failed to achieve a proper standard of emergency management, which threatens our public safety while inflicting personal and economic misery on thousands of residents.”

 

NYSEG’s response was outrageous, Bureau of Emergency Services Commissioner Ken Clair said.

“At one point, the 911 supervisor called me because 911 couldn’t even get through to NYSEG,” Clair said. “We normally have a special number we call for power outages, and they weren’t answering it. I reached out to our NYSEG spokesperson and asked what I should do and he gave me the 800 number that the public calls to report a power outage. It’s an automated phone line! Can you imagine? They want the 911 center to call an automated phone line. That does not work.”

The storm, which brought winds up to 40 mph from Thursday night through Friday, had been forecast well in advance. NYSEG notified Putnam County on Thursday afternoon that 21 mutual aid companies would be available to help, but that aid was nowhere to be found.

Several emergency responders throughout the county had to guard over downed wires for hours during the storm before NYSEG responded. In Kent, it took two hours for NYSEG to respond to the fire department’s calls. In Putnam Valley, fire department volunteers had to stand guard over live wires on Peekskill Hollow Road all night before NYSEG sent a crew to shut off power.

“Our volunteer first responders were managing live wires for seven hours, from 9:20 p.m., when the first call came in, until 4:30 a.m., when NYSEG finally cut the power so that the road could be passable,” said Larry Cobb, Chief of the Putnam Valley Volunteer Fire Department. “That is unacceptable.”

In Lake Carmel and Patterson, the fire houses were still out of power as of 11 a.m. Friday morning, as were the Patterson Library, much of the Carmel schools and an untold number of residents.

County Legislature adopted a $165.1 million budget for 2020 that remains within the state property tax cap and maintains the county’s conservative approach to spending

The Putnam County Legislature adopted a $165.1 million budget for 2020 that remains within the state property tax cap and maintains the county’s conservative approach to spending.

The Legislature made minor adjustments to the budget proposed by Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell earlier this month, shortly after receiving notice that Moody’s Investor Services had upgrading the county’s bond rating to the coveted Aa1 status. That proposal represented a conservative $5.9 million, or 3.7 percent, spending increase over the 2019 budget.

“This is an outstanding budget,” Legislature Chairman Joseph Castellano said. “I’m really excited about the bond rating, the Aa1 rating. It’s great for residents. Going forward we can save some money when we borrow. It’s a testament to all the hard work done by Putnam County employees. This year we briefly touched on the possibility of losing a few employees, but I am very grateful to note that there were absolutely no layoffs this year. I’m looking forward to 2020.”

Some of the Legislature’s changes included reductions to the Planning Department budget, the Transportation Fund Balance and Sheriff’s Department overtime.

“This is a team effort and this is a bare bones effort, which is the reason there is not a million cuts,” Legislator Ginny Nacerino said at the Tuesday night meeting. “You can do that when you have a good budget handed to you. “

The Legislature also put several items into a contingency fund, holding the money for future use or while the board seeks more information.

Among the items held in contingency are $15,000 for maintenance in Parks and Recreation, $30,000 for special services in the District Attorney’s office, $15,000 for license plate readers requested by the Sheriff’s Department and almost $18,000 for a promotion to sergeant.

“We want to have clear policies and procedures around the use of data in the license plate readers,” Legislator Neal Sullivan said. “We want to know how long they are going to keep in and who is going to be able to see it. There are a lot of questions regarding the use of data and we want to know we have the correct policies in place.”

The personnel committee is awaiting clarification on whether the promotion to sergeant involves a road patrol officer or a school resources officer and will discuss the matter in its November meeting.

“My question is, if the SRO is partly paid for the by the school district and we move an SRO to a sergeant position, who is paying for it?” Chairman Castellano asked. “We can’t just impose a cost on the schools or we need to know if the county is footing the bill.”

The board held the Sheriff’s Department to a 2 percent increase in overtime. The Legislature agreed to fund $520,000 in overtime, an increase of $12,000 over the department’s 2019 spending, but $242,000 short of what the department sought.