As lawmakers signed off on another $1.1 million bond for the Tilly Foster Farm Educational Institute, County Executive MaryEllen Odell vowed the county property would be a success when the work on the farm is finally completed.
“Tilly Foster will be an educational institute that will provide education opportunities for students, both young and old,” Odell said in an interview last week. “As we move forward in the development of Tilly Foster Farm, obviously our vision is sustainability and we know that we have the support of the community.”
Odell said Putnam-Northern Westchester BOCES is looking to start five programs on the farm, including culinary arts. Residents are excited about the direction the farm is heading, Odell said, noting she’s spoken with people throughout the county about the farm’s future.
The county Legislature approved the additional money 7-2, with Legislator Dini LoBue’s attempt to delay the vote until more information is provided to the county proving fruitless.
LoBue argued to put the breaks on the bonding in order to get clearer costs on the project. She and Legislator Kevin Wright both called for a public hearing so residents could have further input on the project.
LoBue argued details have been hazy over the project’s direction and how the county plans to make up the money it spent once the farm is open. She said people wouldn’t take this lax approach if they were renovating their own home and the $1 million variance was a huge error. She also questioned if the proposed BOCES agreement would actually become a reality.
“And we don’t know if that’s the end of this investment,” LoBue said of the 1.1 million. “And I’m concerned.”
Wright questioned if county workers needed to rip up the inside to actually understand how much money the project would costs, noting the building has drawings and plans that could’ve been researched.
Wright said for the county to request double the expenditures associated with the farm in less than a year is “either a willful failure to present the facts as they can reasonably be known to be by opening one’s eyes or serious, serious mismanagement of project responsibility.”
Most lawmakers supported the bonding on the farm and were confident in the direction the county was going. Legislature Chairwoman Ginny Nacerino said the construction of the farm was never contingent just on the BOCES agreement. She added while highway department overtime costs are high, those costs would be even pricier if the county hired outside workers.
Legislator Toni Addonizio said the county had no choice but to move forward. She said the county has completed extensive work on the farm like repairing the septic system and making the property disability compliant. She met with BOCES officials the day of the vote and they told her they were interested in using the farm.
Legislator Carl Albano said large variances aren’t uncommon with a project of this mass scale. When auditors look at the county’s finances, they believe the way the county is bonding is appropriate, Albano said.
“There are going to be so many different opportunities now,” Albano said once construction is finished.
Legislator Joe Castellano called the bonding a “win-win” because the finished farm will employ residents and bring visitors to the county.
Legislator Roger Gross said he was prepared to vote against the bond, but changed his mind because it seems like BOCES will be coming on the board. He also reasoned infrastructure throughout the entire county needs to be focused on because it’s “in trouble.”
“I think we need and demand stricter oversight as we go forward,” Gross said. “We really have to look at the dollars.”
LoBue countered and said while there’s always talk about more oversight, it’s never actually done. She said, “It’s too late, where are we getting all this money from? We have to prioritize our spending.”
“We’re leaving a legacy of endless debt,” she said.