We Endorse: Putnam County

MaryEllen Odell – Putnam County Executive

For the past two years, Putnam County has lacked a permanent fixture in leadership. Paul Eldridge certainly stepped up to plate, but even then residents knew his role was only temporary. The 2011 election will satisfy Putnam’s need for a concrete leader; a person in which residents can rely on for three years of service.

This year’s county executive race features MaryEllen Odell, a former county legislator who ran against Vincent Leibell last year, and Alan Schneider, an accountant and financial advisor who owns a tax, accounting and business consulting firm in Mahopac. Each candidate has shown a vested interest in setting Putnam County back on the right path after Leibell’s resignation stemming from corruption chargers.

It’s Odell’s narrowed focus on specific issues and extensive experience within Putnam County government that puts her one step above her competitor. With five years working as a county legislator and her time on various committees, Odell is the candidate that can bring Putnam out of its political dark age.

Her creation of and work on the Fiscal Vision and Accountability Committee could be a valuable resource in helping the county stay within the parameters of the 2 percent tax cap. Odell established this committee with other elected officials, business owners and residents to consolidate efforts between public and private entities. This experience could be crucial in finding ways to combine services and increase coordination between the county and its municipalities, potentially saving money across the board.

In light of rising fuels costs, Odell’s plan to seek out a countywide energy efficiency evaluation is evidence of exploring creative solutions to solve problems. By extending the hours of an employee’s workday and cutting down some departments to a four-day workweek, the county can eliminte some of its extra utility and fuel costs while preserving its workforce. Odell needs to use discretion on which services can be limited to a four-day-a-week work schedule and which services need to be available five days a week.

As a financial advisor, it’s no question that Schneider has an in-depth knowledge of managing budgets. His passion to create a community college within Putnam is admirable, as it could be a potential resource for students who can’t afford a private institution or unemployed residents looking to further their education. Schneider’s view on attracting more retail business to the county, however, only perpetuates the need to sustain such a high sales tax rate and disregards the need for more corporate growth and the demands of a highly educated workforce.

With pressure from unfunded mandates, Odell possesses the enthusiasm to the tackle the state face to face, and her desire to work with fellow county executives to lobby for relief shows that she is willing to collaborate. However, Odell needs to first focus on what the county itself can do to save money, and from there, use the power of solidarity to put pressure on Albany.

Overall, Odell has the experience of working in Putnam to be an effective leader for Putnam. Right now, the county needs someone to boost morale, and Odell’s energy and passion for her potential constituents is why this should be an opportunity for her to finally shine as county executive.

Sam Oliverio – District 2 County Legislator 

Throughout this campaign season, the term “career politician” has been hurled at Sam Oliverio in attempt to discredit his work and commitment to the Putnam County Legislature.

For the lifelong Putnam Valley resident, however, this should come as a compliment.

When choosing a candidate for any public office, one’s resume, along with its pros and cons, should be weighed in making that decision—and not how long he or she has served. Oliverio’s experience is just one trait that makes him the best choice for the job.

With 2011 coming to a close, four legislators are within or finishing their first term. Pair that with two seasoned legislators ending their service and a brand new county executive being sworn in this year, and it’s clear the legislature needs someone whose experience will provide the county with direction.

Providing a solid voice for the western side of Putnam, Oliverio has strongly advocated a physical presence for county services to those not located near the seat in Carmel. Putnam Valley, Phillipstown, Nelsonville and Cold Spring may see that vision turn into a reality, with Sandy Galef’s $250,000 grant, which was supposed be used for Kent’s senior center, set to expire in the near future. (I want to fact check this, I think it’s 2012.)

In regards to sales tax, Oliverio has maintained a realistic approach in maintaining the rate at 8.375 percent, claiming that it “helps the county, it does not hinder it.” Until the county can find a solution to generate substantive revenue without relying on sales tax income, it will have to sustain the combined 1 percent extension.

His opponent, Allen Beals, possesses diverse work experience as a turkey farmer, gynecologist and lawyer, which shows that he’s invested in his community. His lack of experience in the public sector, however, is concerning as he won’t easily grasp the financial needs of the county in light of economic instability and the need to tailor budgets to the state-mandated property tax cap.

Rather than, using his candidacy to bring forward alternative ideas and showcase himself as a worthy candidate, Beals took unnecessary jabs at Oliverio, questioning his party affiliation and connecting him with former state senator Vincent Leibell. A candidate’s allegiance to a particular party should not be a voter’s sole determining factor, and the Leibell case provides people with an easy way out by inspiring unwarranted doubt in the electorate.

In short, Oliverio can use his wealth of experience with a firm voice and will be a good resource to a young legislature. With increasing pressure from state mandates, Putnam County needs someone who’s been there and done that.

Dini LoBue – District 8 County Legislator 

Although this year’s race features the usual incumbent and challenger dynamic, District 8 is unique in that both Dini LoBue and Robert McGuigan, Jr. have served as county legislator for this area before. McGuigan, a general contractor, held office from 1997 to 2009 and LoBue, an independent design consultant, took over in 2009 and has served ever since.

Despite both candidates having had the experience and know-how necessary to be an effective leader, LoBue deserves to retain her position in District 8. Her realistic approach to county finance and the future of business in Putnam will be an asset to the residents and her colleagues as the focus shifts from retail business to corporate growth.

Sales tax has been a hot topic throughout this year’s campaign season, with many saying it hurts business growth and others saying the county should be sharing it with its local municipalities.

According to LoBue, who recognizes the reality of the county’s economic situation, residents could bear a higher sales tax rate than a raise in their property tax. If residents are hurting economically, they can limit spending but can’t necessarily control how much money they pay in taxes. Though she hopes the county will one day be able to wean itself off its sales tax rate, LoBue said it must stay the same right now in order to offset property taxes.

LoBue’s philosophy on economic development reverses the idea that retail and commercial growth will be key in helping to generate revenue for the county. According to LoBue, 70 percent of Putnam’s workforce is employed outside of the county, meaning that most of its labor base is in retail. To meet the demands of an increasingly educated and skilled class of laborers, the county needs to seek out more corporate expansion, LoBue said. She also recognizes that people are shopping online more, leaving retail to compete with the immediacy of in the Internet—which could lead to more empty storefronts in the long run.

As far as the state-mandated 2 percent tax cap levy is concerned, LoBue views it as a challenge to the county to keep taxes in order. A champion of low taxes, LoBue has shown the need for the county to become more stringent in their spending before it pushes its financial problems onto its citizens.

Her challenger, Bobby McGuigan, has been unrealistic in saying that the county should be sharing its sales tax with local municipalities. The county must figure out an alternative to such a high sales tax rate, but that day cannot be in the immediate future because it’s the county top generator of revenue. McGuigan has maintained respect to the nail salons, pizzerias and delis, which is admirable, but the future of Putnam County can not depend on retail to sustain its workforce and revenue.

In short, it’s LoBue’s realistic approach to the sales tax, which is more manageable burden for residents that could help to the county’s focus stay off of property taxes. She takes into consideration that retail may not be the answer in the long-term and the need to invest in business that is tailored to a higher skill set in the 21st century. LoBue deserves another term to help the county move forward.

Lynne Eckardt, Roger Gross – Southeast Town Board

There’s really only one way to describe Southeast’s campaign season amongst the four remaining candidates vying for two vacant spots on the town board. And that’s cordial.

It’s no secret the Southeast Town Board has been lacking good relations between its members the last four years. With voters ousting Michael Rights and Dwight Yee during the Republican and Independence primaries on Sept. 13, a renewed confidence has been mounting within in the residents of Southeast and Brewster.

No matter which two candidates are selected on Nov. 8, a sense of professionalism will be restored to the board’s Thursday night meetings. Roger Gross and Lynne Eckardt, however, possess that civility along with the methods to get Southeast back on track.

Gross has assembled an extensive resume working in both Brewster and Southeast. A current member of the Brewster Board of Education and Southeast Town Board, Gross deserves another term, as his experience has been critical during this year’s budget crisis.

Throughout this fall’s budgetary process, Gross has provided a realistic voice to a messy financial situation. Looking at the town’s pressing landfill bond and a $230,000 shortfall in revenue, Gross has not been timid in stating that the board may have to exceed the 2 percent tax cap as a “safety valve”—a move that seems like taboo in municipalities across Putnam County. His work in holding the landowners accountable in the Hamlet of Dykemans spurred the process of cleaning up the debris that has been an eyesore for motorists traveling along Route 312 for the past few months. Gross has been a leader, a fighter and a voice of sanity on the board throughout the Rights administration, standing up against his ill-conceived political schemes, including the supervisor’s attempt to boot the Child Advocacy Center and other essential county offices from 121 Main Street in Brewster.

Even after three unsuccessful election attempts, Eckardt has proven her commitment to village and town residents through her continued effort in becoming a member on the board. By staying active with the town’s architectural review board, Eckardt is accustomed of the voting process and familiar with working as a part to a greater whole. Gross has been a leader, a fighter and a voice of sanity on the board throughout the Rights administration, standing up against his ill-conceived political schemes, including the supervisor’s attempt to boot the Child Advocacy Center and other essential county offices from 121 Main Street in Brewster.

Eckardt’s idea for monthly roundtable workshops shows that she is open to suggestions from the general public. Too few politicians admit that their ideas may not be in step with the electorate, and her willingness to hear what the residents have to say is crucial in keeping an open dialogue between the board and its residents. This could possibly fill the void that residents and town board goers have been seeking for the past year or so.

Both candidates have stressed the need to improve relations between the village and the town. If Southeast and Brewster can mend their relationship while sustaining their own autonomy, the two may be able to coordinate efforts by consolidating services, thus saving money for their residents.

Edwin Alvarez and Cathie Sloat maintained classy campaigns. Both kept politics in the realm of what they could add to Southeast and didn’t resort to harsh criticisms of their competitors just for the sake of controversy. Neither, however, have offered a specific vision for Southeast, and with pressure from state mandates and faltering revenues, the town needs candidates with a plan.

Gross and Eckardt would provide the board with a good balance—a seasoned background and a fresh perspective. Both candidates are fiscal conservatives, and their prudence concerning the administration of money may help Southeast formulate a better plan for the 2012 budget, especially in regards to staying within the cap and finding funds for community staples like the library and museum.

Peter Creegan, Jonathan Schneider – Carmel Town Board

Three strong candidates with varied strengths and diverse ideas are running to fill two spots on the Carmel Town Board. Anthony DiCarlo, the county’s current District 9 legislator, left one seat open last year and Councilman Robert Ravallo, who’s held the position since 1988, will vacate the other at the end of this year.

With no incumbents in this year’s race, each candidate has the potential to offer a set of fresh eyes to the Carmel Town Board. Amongst a tough field of competition, Peter Creegan and Jonathan Schneider should be the candidates to make the board whole.

Creegan’s experience in the construction industry, which includes both labor and administrative roles, is a valuable resource, as he’s negotiated contracts, budgets and pensions with union workers and developers and has worked closely with agencies on the local, state and federal levels. His well-rounded expertise can help the town in terms of complying with the state-mandated stormwater management requirements and dealing with its infrastructure and specials districts.

When taking the Reed Memorial Library’s funding dilemma into consideration, Creegan has maintained a realistic approach when it comes to forming a special library district, much like that of the Mahopac Public Library. To ask such a small amount of people living in the Hamlet of Carmel to fund the library would put a hefty tax burden on the residents. According to Creegan, that money needs to be found within the budget.

Schneider’s background as a financial advisor adds another needed dimension to the board, as most municipalities across the state are feeling the affects of tightened budget lines and decreasing fund balances. His work on his former hometown South Salem’s fire district budget has given him firsthand experience with the 2 percent tax cap, thus giving him an advantage over other town board candidates.

The Mahopac resident also has a unique view on economic development within Carmel and Mahopac. Instead of focusing solely on retail stores or corporate parks, Schneider feels as though the town can find a balance between the two to attract new business within its borders. Considered commercial sector as a necessary avenue of revenue, Schneider said the town can diversify its tax base by focusing on corporate growth, as well.

It should be reassuring for the Town of Carmel to know that the third candidate, John Lupinacci, has stated that he will continue to commit himself to the community whether or not he his elected. As a resident, Lupinacci has kept himself informed of all matters concerning the town, showing his willingness to stay educated and use that knowledge to inform other citizens. No matter how this election turns out, we hope Lupinacci will continue to stay active, as his input and interest is needed.

Overall, Creegan and Schneider are much-needed pieces to complete the town board’s pie. Creegan’s ability to negotiate contracts and Schneider’s preliminary experience in handling a budget with the 2 percent cap will be useful, as it’s becoming harder and harder to predict how the market will behave on any given day or in the long term.

Bon Tendy – Putnam Valley Town Supervisor, Jay Michaelson and Eugene Yetter, Jr. – Putnam Valley Town Board

Recognizing the beauty and allure which helps the town attract residents looking to get out the hustle and bustle of city life, the Town of Putnam Valley is seeking to find this careful balance between economic development and the preservation of its environment. Bob Tendy, the town’s current supervisor, along with Jay Michaelson and Eugene Yetter, Jr. deserve to be the candidates to ensure this dynamic stays in place.

Tendy, who is about to finish his first term, has been instrumental in setting the town on the right economic foot. Having stated that environmental protection is key in the development of Putnam Valley, the board has been watchful of developers looking to set up shop in town. Through the implementation of incentive zoning, the board has ensure that development occurs within the parameters of its own means—the law, which is requires an extensive review by the town’s board and planning board, keeps a vigilant eye on the town’s open spaces, and forces developers into “clusters.” This prevents urban sprawl and helps to maintain the environment that makes the town one of the most beautiful places to live in the Hudson Valley.

It’s Yetter’s pragmatic approach to the 2 percent tax cap that makes him an ideal candidate on any board looking to make cuts while maintaining its services. With modest tax increases coming from the board, Yetter realizes the need to be stringent in spending to try to make the town as accessible as it can be to its residents. Though he believes the state has pushed its economic troubles on local municipalities, Yetter is willing to roll with the punches, as it serves as a good guideline for towns to use to keep taxes as low as possible.

Michaelson can offer a fresh perspective and new ideas to a board looking to be financially responsible in times of economic hardship. His view on sustainable develop in light of the “green revolution” could be instrumental in keeping large retailers out of Putnam Valley—thus maintaining the open space Putnam Valley is known for. Michaelson’s experience in the software industry could help attract more sustainable, high-tech and corporate business to the town, as his input is valuable in light of the 21st century. He has been openly critical of the town’s incentive zoning laws, and could prove as a useful watchdog to make sure the town and its developers don’t overstep their boundaries.

Wendy Whetsel, Tendy’s opponent in this year’s race, should maintain a strong presence in the town. Her focus on the community and its need is a rare trait amongst politicians, and she sees the need for community input when making decisions regarding the future of the county.

Overall, Tendy deserves another term as town supervisor, as his leadership will help Putnam Valley stay within the 2 percent tax cap—an accomplishment that warrants another shot at tailoring the 2012 budget. Yetter’s pragmatic approach to county and state governance could help the town lobby for the reconstruction of its roads and Oregon Corners. Michaelson could offer the board a new set of it eyes as it struggles with development that isn’t based on retail and deserves a position as town board member.

Richard Shea – Philipstown Town Supervisor, Barbara Scuccimarra and Katie DeMarco – Philipstown Town Board

Like most municipalities dealing the 2 percent tax cap, Philipstown in dealing with the quandary of cutting spending with supplying a sufficient amount of services for its residents. Unlike most towns in Putnam County, however, Philipstown does not contain large retail outlets and other forms of commercial development—instead it relies on its small town allure to attract a large base of travelers from New York City.

Richard Shea, the town’s current supervisor, deserves another term on the board while Barbara Scuccimarra and Katie Gianchinta DeMarco should fill the open spots as board members. Each contributes a concrete perspective on maintaining the balance between economic development and environmental preservation.

Shea spearheaded efforts to get Philipstown FEMA aid after Hurricane Irene. With its downtown decimated by floodwaters and infrastructure ruined by high winds and heavy rain, Shea showed that he was a true leader by surveying damage with Putnam County Executive Paul Eldridge and Sen. Charles Schumer right after the storm ceased. In reward of his effort, Philipstown received the funds necessary to help rebuild the community in spite of severe damage to its infrastructure.

The current town supervisor’s point-of-view on Philipstown’s dirt roads shows that he willing to keep the character of his town in tact. Having spoken out again paving the roads, which would have been costly to the town, Shea realizes the roads need to be reengineered to more effectively drain during large storms—something that will be necessary as the Northeast has witnessed more extreme weather this year than in past times.

Erickson, who failed to participate in two of three debates that would’ve showcased himself as a candidate, did not make him accessible to those unable to attend community events or reached by door-knocking efforts.

Scuccimarra has had a pragmatic approach to development within the Town of Philipstown. Recognizing the need to preserve open space and the environment that makes the town unique, Scuccimarra has suggested the use of more centralized centers—like Main Street—as continued avenues of growth for the town. This narrowed focus can help to prevent urban sprawl and the appearance of large, commercial developments that would take away from Philipstown’s small-town nature.

Though she is a political newcomer to Philipstown, it’s apparent that DeMarco has a vested interest in her community having attended town board meetings since she came home from college. Her approach to inspiring economic development rests not in the fact that the town shouldn’t be necessarily attracting outside developers to build large retail stores, but focuses on the empty storefronts dispersed throughout Philipstown. Because the town has such a large economic base in tourism, emphasizing these storefronts could help to spur small businesses without having to worry about building new infrastructure.

In short, Shea, Scuccimarra and DeMaro have the motivation to guide Philipstown economically without taking away from its nature that makes it so popular amongst residents and tourists alike.


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