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Odell Delivers State of the County Address

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Putnam County Executive Mary Ellen Odell delivers her first State of the County address.
Putnam County Executive Mary Ellen Odell delivers her first State of the County address.

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell presented her first State of the County speech to a standing-room only crowd of county leadership, department heads and representatives from municipal government from all over Putnam County on March 15.

County Executive Odell began her address by outlining the financial difficulties faced by the county.

Giving an overview of the county’s 2012 budget, County Executive Odell said that the county’s $141 million in operating expenses, including $36 million that goes to pay for state-mandated programs, exceeded the county’s annual revenues– comprised of sales tax,  property tax, state and federal reimbursements and department revenues– by $5 million dollars. In order to shore up this budget gap, the county must dip into the general fund balance.

County Executive Odell said if annual expenses and revenues progress year-to-year on the same path that the county’s general fund balance will be drawn down to zero by the year 2017.

The most expensive state-mandated program that the county must fund is Medicaid, which this year cost $10 million and served only 4,000 of the county’s estimated 100,000 residents, County Executive Odell said. Displaying a chart that showed 2400 percent growth in the expense of Medicaid since the year 2000, County Executive said it was “unsustainable.”

She said the county could not wait on the governor and the state legislature to fix the problem and said the county would have to survive the economic challenge by managing assets and optimizing resources.

County Executive Odell outlined 15 proposed resolutions to work toward those goals, in addition to also growing public-private partnerships, decreasing expenses and increasing revenues that she urged the Putnam County Legislature to act quickly on.

Consolidation of county department’s was at the top of County Executive Odell’s proposed resolutions, including placing Youth Services under the Department of Social Services and Mental Health, potentially increasing state reimbursement’s by $44,000 annually and done with the hope of eventually de-funding Youth Services out of existence.

She also proposed that the county’s Planning Department, including development and public transportation, be consolidated with the Department of Highway and Facilities; a proposal that has already met with some questions from county legislators at a meeting earlier this year.

“The consolidation of these departments will encourage a stronger coordination and dialogue with our local planning boards and enhance our ability to drive economic growth through transportation and infrastructure projects. This will increase our ability to secure state and federal funding,” County Executive Odell said in her speech.

County Executive Odell went on to say that the proposed $8 million Kent Senior Center was fiscally irresponsible and cost prohibitive and proposed instead to expand the county’s Office for the Aging space in Carmel that also would allow the county to expand testing services, generating revenue and saving on contracted services.

She also asked the county legislators to approve legislation to sell the county-owned property at 34 Gleneida Avenue, to support the county leasing office space at the yet-to-be approved Butterfield Development in Cold Spring, and to donate a home secured by the county through tax foreclosure to the Women’s Resource Center, as a safe house for victims of domestic violence.

She also asked for support in creating an emergency storm response task force, a resolution to promote one or more sales tax free holidays in Putnam County through “home rule” legislation, the upgrading of tourism related websites and renaming Route 301, which transverses from Cold Spring to Carmel, the Hudson River Turnpike, which Odell said would promote, “intra-county tourism and revitalize the connection,” between the east and west sides of the county.

And, in a two-pronged approach to “help keep Putnam County working families on the job,” County Executive proposed a resolution to support the use of project labor agreements for major construction projects, which she said would provide local employment opportunities and guarantee competitive wages; and another resolution to improve the notification given to local businesses and contractors of opportunities to do business with the county.

“My administration is proud to present the initiatives that have presented themselves as opportunities for success. We are excited and feel very positive that the Putnam County Legislature is ready to open their minds and their hearts and work with the administration together,” County Executive Odell said.

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