By Alex Weisler
Debate over a controversial proposal to turn Putnam Lake into a taxpayer-supported park district centered around finances and access issues at a packed public hearing last Wednesday.
After listening to citizens voice their concerns for nearly three hours, Patterson Town Supervisor Michael Griffin told the crowd that the board would reevaluate the proposal and likely schedule another public hearing.
“If we all focus on what needs to be done over there, we can make some major improvements and we can do a lot of great things,” he told the Patterson Recreation Center crowd of about 200. “I would just hope that we come together with one focus, which is what we can do to make Putnam Lake better.”
The plan calls for a revamp of the lake, which is currently managed by the Putnam Lake Community Council (PLCC) and financially supported by $190 annual membership fees.
The proposal calls for an annual budget of about $130,000.The first year’s cost to the average Putnam Lake homeowner would be $99.51.
But for some Putnam Lake residents, that’s too steep—especially when coupled with the Town of Patterson’s ability to decide the tax rate each year.
“Once you go park district, you can’t go back,” resident Mike Turnyanszki said. “If you approve this, we’re stuck with it.”
Several residents like Turnyanszki said they were concerned with the petition process that generated the park district proposal. Turnyanszki asked Town Planner Rich Williams how many signatures were invalidated and said he was disappointed when Williams told him about 15 percent had been thrown out.
But Councilman Kevin Burns urged the crowd to focus not on the petition process but instead on the specifics of the proposal moving forward.
“What I think is helpful here tonight is that people focus on what reservations you have as to what’s going to happen in the district,” he said.
Under the current proposal, the park district would clean up Putnam Lake’s two open beaches, add a walking trail and picnic area, hire a freshwater scientist to conduct a lake assessment and add exercise areas and gaming tables, among other provisions.
Allen Burnsworth, a real estate agent who moved to Putnam County five years ago, said houses on the Connecticut side of the border sell much quicker than their New York equivalents because prospective home buyers are embarrassed by the condition of Putnam Lake.
The park district proposal, he said, is an acknowledgment that the community values self-improvement, even if that process includes some financial sacrifice.
“The reason that communities do better is because people care about their entire community, not just my backyard,” he said. “I may very well be a yuppie but all I’ve seen since I’ve been here is that no one in this area wants to move forward.”
Putnam Lake resident Laura Byrne suggested the board modify the park district into a water quality district that could focus solely on maintaining the lake’s health.
“Should it be a swimming pool, absolutely not. But it could be healthy,” she said. “It’s the lake itself who really needs help and in the past the PLCC has used their funds to try to help the lake. That was a drain of our funds thinking it was our allocation and our responsibility.”
Byrne also said she was worried that a new park district could prove too enticing for non-residents looking for a place to hang out late at night.
“Any kids from Connecticut could come and hang out if these park lands look so wonderful,” she said. “We have trouble with that as it is now — we battle against vagrants and vandals because kids love to hang out.”
But in the end, it came down to finances for most speakers who addressed the board.
Out-of-work electrician Paul Santucci, a PLCC maintenance volunteer, said he knows the lake has room for growth but urged the board to recognize the financial hardship faced by some Putnam Lake residents.
“I’m just afraid of seeing my taxes go through the roof,” he said. “I think it’s wonderful, the idea of a park district, but just remember — these are real people. and everybody has their limits.”
If the Patterson Town Board decides to alter the proposal, another public hearing must be held no less than 15 days and no more than 25 days after the board issues a resolution to that effect.
Putnam Lake appears on the agenda for the Jan. 25 Patterson Town Board meeting.