The Putnam Examiner

More Money Funneled for Constructed Tilly Foster Farm

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Tilly Foster Farm, which has been under construction for more than a year, is set to get another  alt=
Tilly Foster Farm, which has been under construction for more than a year, is set to get another $1.1 million to finish the work on the property.

Another $1.1 million windfall could be allotted to the newly named Tilly Foster Farm Educational Institute as Putnam County attempts to get the farm fully open and operational again.

Deputy County Executive Bruce Walker explained the construction would total $2.4 million with much of the work occurring in-house by county highway department workers. Once work is finished, the entire infrastructure would be available including the expanded Lodge that could be used by BOCES and also as a banquet facility similar to the Putnam County Golf Course.

“We’re close,” Walker said. “We’re almost there.”

The variance between the original estimate and updated one is steep. For instance, site work was originally thought to be $30,000, but the updated estimate is all the way up to $240,000. General construction was $600,000, but now an additional $650,000 is necessary.

Money would go toward the power supply, water supply, septic system, and general contracting for the facility under construction. Walker stressed the Lodge was not structurally sound before renovations got underway.

Although Walker acknowledged the difference in expected-to-actual cost is large, the county used a technique–design-build–so it didn’t spend close to a million just on engineering drawings from an outside consultant. The engineering at the start would have mapped out the improvements more accurately, but would have cost more, he said. The only issue with design-build is the large variances that weren’t anticipated from the start.

“In the long run, you save money,” Walker said, adding later “You almost have a brand new building now.”

Most lawmakers agreed to put a bond forward to pay for the additional fix-ups.

Legislator Bill Gouldman, who supports the additional money, said 14 years later since it’s been bought, the county has spent $8 million on the property with a return investment of only $543,000. While the county could leave it as is and turn it into a park, there are still high maintenance cost attached to it.

“I feel at this moment I have to vote on things to fix the problem that other people have developed and caused,” Gouldman said.

Legislators Ginny Nacerino, Barbara Scuccimarra, and Carl Albano all lauded the farm’s potential once the renovations are complete, approving the administration’s handing of the farm.

“To gain a real appreciation of the work that has been done, you really have to see it,” Nacerino said.

Albano added the bond rating is the best financial deal the county is ever going to get.

Legislator Dini LoBue argued against putting more money into the farm, calling the additional request a “$1.1 million mistake” and that “people should be fired for that.”

“There are no plans,” she said. “We’re just winging it.”

LoBue scoffed that the county saved money by not doing an engineer report before the work started and a Request for Proposal (RFP) should have been sent out so legislators would know the expenses up front.

She demanded a business plan that would make up the money spent from the county and said the bonding would put the county in a “precarious spot” financially.

Walker responded that BOCES is committed to using the farm and would meet on the premises this week. He added there are more partnerships in the process and RFPs are being put out for a restaurant similar to the Putnam County Golf Course. There are also 18 contracts–many outside the county–for the early intervention pre-school program planned at the farm, Walker said.

“Where is it concrete?” LoBue shot back.

Sheriff Don Smith, who was deputy county executive in 2001 before he took office as sheriff, spoke about the history of the county taking over the farm in 2002 to stop it from becoming condominiums. The county focused on protecting water quality and preserving open space by limiting overdevelopment residentially, he said.

Smith stressed the county needs to balance between environmental conservationism and the business community. He believed purchasing and keeping the farm has been a wise decision.

“Conservation, preservation, the environment doesn’t preserve itself and if somebody doesn’t pay for it ultimately you can’t preserve these lands, you can’t afford to live here,” Smith said.

Southeast Councilwoman Lynne Eckardt called the handling of the farm since its acquisition by the county a “debacle.” She called the business plan “scattered shot” and thinks an itemized plan should be presented by the county.

Deputy Highway Commissioner John Tully said the farm has been supported by three county executive administrations and noted there were numerous meetings held to craft a vision for the farm.

“Get it the hell out of the ‘too hard to handle’ bucket and let’s move on in unison,” Tully said

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