By David Propper
The afternoon after Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell presented her annual 2019 budget, Kent Supervisor Maureen Fleming slammed Odell for wasteful spending during a press conference last week.
Standing on the steps of the Historic County Courthouse last Thursday, Fleming, who is running for county executive, chided Odell for proposing a raise in county taxes for next fiscal year, while highlighting that she clinched another no tax increase budget in Kent.
When addressing the county budget, Fleming said reliance on the general fund was troubling, noting that without pulling that money, the tax increase would’ve been 4.5 percent instead of the proposed 2 percent increase. She also chided Odell for stating that zero percent increases don’t work, pointing out that she hasn’t raised town taxes in five straight years.
“Let me tell you, you can ask the people in the Town of Kent if zero doesn’t work because they are very happy to not see their taxes go up every year,” Fleming, a Democrat, said.
Fleming also casted skepticism on Odell’s claim that the golf course is on “solid financial ground.” While the county projected the golf course would turn a profit of $172,621, so far this year, the actual costs is $223,055 this year, Fleming asserted
“I don’t consider almost a quarter of a million dollars out of our pockets on solid financial ground,” Fleming said.
In an interview, Fleming said she would explore hiring a person to manage the entire golf course and the county can set a contract for the amount of revenue they expect from the venue. It would be up to the manager of the golf course to bring in enough revenue so the county and private contractor both earn a profit.
While county officials have referred to the golf course as a “destination,” Fleming said going door-to-door that some residents don’t even know the golf course exists.
“It’s not benefitting all of the residents or even most of the residents of the county,” Fleming said. “I think county government should be governing, not in an entertainment business.”
Fleming stopped short of guaranteeing she would not raise taxes next year if she were county executive, but she would hope to keep taxes flat. She said there is “a lot of fat” in this budget.
Odell, in an interview last week, called Fleming’s press conference nothing more than political rhetoric. She said the county picks up the tab for community college and Help America Vote Act expenses, which makes budgeting for the towns easier.
“I don’t think she understands the county budget at all because she’s never participated in any of our meetings,” Odell, a Republican, said.
As for the amount pulled from fund balance, Odell noted the county is proposing to take $1.5 million less this year than last year, despite health insurance increases. When discussing the golf course, Odell said the county property that she inherited has become a destination and was making money. Before she took over, the golf course was losing money en masse, Odell argued. She wondered if Fleming simply wanted the land to deserted and overrun by weeds.
Odell said Fleming’s suggestion about hiring a contractor to handle the golf course operations is something the county is already doing.
“That’s exactly what we’re doing,” Odell said. “How do you respond to that? Thank you for the compliment because that’s what we’re already doing. If that’s her two cents– she’s a day late and dollar short because that’s exactly what we’ve been doing for five years.”