22 July 2009

There is reason to be cautiously optimistic this morning . . .

Proposal leaves DSS in Hudson
by Francesca Olsen
Hudson-Catskill Newspapers
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

At a press conference Tuesday, Board of Supervisors Chairman Art Baer, R-Hillsdale, and Hudson Mayor Richard Scalera announced that they are considering a proposal “to allow the Columbia County Department of Social Services to remain in Hudson.”

The plan would entail the county’s purchase of the One City Centre building on the corner of State and Green streets in Hudson; departments currently in the County Office Buildings at 401 and 610 State Street would move to City Centre, freeing up room for DSS operations.

The total square footage of 401 and 610 State Street is 36,000 square feet, 24,000 at 401 and 12,000 at 610 State Street. Baer said that this was “significantly more” space than DSS currently has.

Baer called the proposal “a great solution for a difficult problem” and said “I’m looking forward to implementing it.”

“The logistics of the planning -- there’s a lot to discuss,” said Scalera. “The commitment to keep DSS in the city of Hudson is what we’ve been working for.”

DSS would stay in its current building on Railroad Avenue for the duration of its lease, which ends in 2011; plans to retrofit One City Centre and the County Office Buildings will be firmed between now and then.

Baer told the Register-Star on June 23 that the county was not interested in purchasing One City Centre. “When we were interested in that building, we did not own the Ockawamick School. At this point, we have no need for additional space,” he said.

The chairman said his change of mind came with the change in the real estate market. “At previous levels of pricing, what I said was true,” he said.

“One City Centre is no longer as costly as it was, say, a year ago,” said Scalera.

Though Baer said he was “not prepared to go into any numbers” regarding the county’s bid on One City Centre, the Register-Star reported on June 23 that the price on the building has fallen since the recession from $5 million to about $2 million.

One City Centre currently houses a few businesses, including a branch of the First Niagara Bank and the headquarters of Taconic Farms, a research laboratory. If the county owns property for county use, it is not required to pay tax on the property. Baer said that if the county were to purchase the building, the space being used by businesses would still be on the tax rolls.

One City Centre is being reassessed right now. “I think reassessment value will be lower than what it was,” Baer said.

“This is not a done deal,” the chairman stressed. “We are only in discussion with the bank. There are still many pieces that have to be put together in the puzzle.”

Other bids are out on the One City Centre property. Richard Koskey confirmed that he had made a bid on the property with the plan of leasing it to the county at “below market” value.

“The bank, we do believe, wants to move on the property,” said Baer. “We’re moving this on a parallel with the dormitory authority.”

The Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) is being considered to act as a third party for work on the county’s capital projects. DASNY provides financing and construction services to non-profits higher education and health care institutions, certain state agencies and nonprofit organizations specified by law. Court facilities, social services and homeless housing programs are all eligible for DASNY financing.

Baer told the Register-Star that funds to buy One City Centre would probably come from a larger bond for several projects, including renovations to the former Ockawamick school building and renovations to the county courthouse.

Baer said he has gotten positive feedback from businesses located in One City Centre. “We are in very close touch with them,” he said.

If One City Centre is purchased, the Ockawamick plan would be “downsized”, according to Baer. “We would probably build out a little less than half, which would be absolutely necessary to make (this plan) viable,” he said.

Minority Leader Doug McGivney, D-Kinderhook, said he supported the plan. “I’m very enthusiastic that this will solve part of our capital improvements.”

McGivney said that years ago, One City Centre was the first choice in the discussion of where to move DSS. “Our original desires look like they’re possible. It’s pretty exciting,” he said. “The devil’s always in the details, but it looks pretty good.”

Supervisor William C. Hughes, D-Hudson 4, expressed his happiness on the plan to keep DSS in Hudson. “This is a great day. We’re certainly elated,” he said.

Supervisor Tom Dias, D-Ancram, said he wasn’t sure yet. “I don’t have enough information yet,” he said. “There’s too many numbers up in the air. What I hear so far is a lot has to do with the fact that certain tenants remain and I have a concern about that. I don’t think the county should be in that kind of business, but I’m keeping an open mind.”

“I think the devil’s in the details, but I think in general, One City Center makes sense,” said Supervisor George Jahn, D-Austerlitz. He called the building the only “Class-A” building in the city of Hudson -- meaning it is newer and needs much less renovation work than other options. “The current DSS building is currently a class-C building,” he said.

Reaction to the announcement

Local officials pleased with plan to keep DSS in city
by Jamie Larson
Hudson Catskill Newspapers
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Hudson officials responded favorably to the news Tuesday that the County Board of Supervisors Chairman Art Baer, R-Hillsdale, and Hudson Mayor Richard Scalera have reached an agreement to keep the Department of Social Services in Hudson after moths of sometimes contentious disagreement. The county had originally passed a proposal to move DSS out of the city to the old Ockawamick school building in Claverack.

While many details remain undecided, the proposal on the table, announced at a press conference at the 401 State Street county office building, would move county government offices to the One City Centre building, leaving the current 401 and 610 State Street county buildings open for potential DSS locations when the lease on the current facility on Railroad Avenue expires. Other options for DSS locations are also being considered, but to the delight of many in Hudson those options are also located within the city.

“I applaud Chairmen Baer and all those involved in the process,” Scalera said at press conference, standing beside Baer, “We are very excited that we will be sitting at the table.”

When the Ockawamick move was announced in the fall of 2008 an opposition to the plan sprung up immediately. Hudson politicians and citizens argued that DSS deserved to stay in Hudson as the city is the “county seat,” where all other major agencies are, and because such a high percentage of those in need of services live in or around the city.

Local activist, and Hudson Bottom Line Party founder, Linda Mussmann organized rallies and events to get Hudson residents out protesting the plan, and was pleased with the new county position.

Mussmann was still cautious at the press conference however, and asked Baer if the Board of Supervisors would keep looking for options for DSS in Hudson if the One City Centre plan didn’t pan out. Baer said that they would. Mussmann thanked them, saying she doesn’t enjoy the job of holding signs outside of government meetings, adding, “It’s nice to be a part of the process, and we look forward to working with you.”

Mayor Scalera thanked her. “I’m a true optimist, but don't put away those signs yet,” Scalera said, soliciting a slight grimace from Baer, standing to his left at the podium.

“They’re in the truck,” she said.

After the press conference Hudson Supervisor Rev. Edward Cross, D-2nd Ward, said he thanked Mussmann for all she did to get people behind the issue. He also thanked the supervisors who worked behind the scenes to put the new deal on the table after so much infighting on the issue. “We put down the swords and opened our ears,” he said, “I’ve never seen the board work so hard to accomplish something. It’s a very good day in the neighborhood.”

Fellow Hudson Supervisor William Hughes, D-4th Ward, said he was proud of the supervisors for their new position and happy for the people they represent. “Its been a long road,” Hughes said, “I’m glad to see there was an idea we could all go forward with and we can smooth out what was a contentious relationship. I think the city and the county needs that to move forward.”

20 July 2009

From the editorial page

Bricks, mortar and voter ire
The Columbia Paper editorial
Sunday, 19 July 2009

YOU DON’T HAVE TO vote this November. Sure, the ballot offers a chance to choose among candidates for local offices, and it frequently happens that races hinge on one or two votes. But this year it seems like just the thought that you’ll vote has generated the seeds of change.

What else could explain the sudden about face of the county Board of Supervisors. Only a few months ago, the supervisors voted decisively to purchase the old Ockawamick School building in Claverack and then to move the headquarters of the county Department of Social Services to that site. Almost the only supervisors voting against the plan represent the City of Hudson, where the department is currently headquartered. Never mind the protesters and the outcry from city officials, this was a done deal.

Election Day lay more than half a year away back then, and supervisors didn’t see a political liability in voting for a plan that promised to save the county money, with only poor people getting hurt. Some folks chuckled that maybe it would do the people receiving assistance from the social services department some good if they couldn’t make it out to Claverack to collect their benefits.

Maybe the chucklers forgot that some of the people eligible for benefits once made buttons until the button factory closed, made furniture until the furniture factory closed, made humidifiers until the humidifier factory closed. Maybe they didn’t notice that unemployment in the county has hit a high not seen in these parts for a quarter century or more. Maybe they have a job to offer the people they chuckle about.

But lots of voters have noticed these dismal signs, and so have candidates for county office. A theme is emerging for the fall campaigns, as supervisor hopefuls across the political spectrum have latched on to public dissatisfaction with the plan to move the Department of Social Services (DSS) out of Hudson.

That became clear last week when Claverack Supervisor and former Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim Keegan, a Republican, said he no longer supported moving the DSS out of Hudson. That amounted to a bombshell, because disagreements in the GOP seldom get aired in public and because Mr. Keegan, not somebody who goes around rocking boats, would seem to gain little from criticizing the current chairman, fellow Republican Art Baer (Hillsdale). Yet here he was contradicting the current chairman by reporting that DSS officials have told him they don’t think the move makes sense.

Mr. Keegan says that many of his constituents have told him they don’t like the DSS plan, something he voted for. In previous years his personal popularity and long record of service might have made the outcome of the town election a foregone conclusion. But he faces a challenge this year from Robin Andrews, a member of the Philmont Village Board, and just as few would have predicted a public split between Mr. Keegan and Mr. Baer, handicapping the outcome of local races has become a lot trickier.

The situation cuts across party lines. Kinderhook Supervisor Doug McGivney is a Democrat, and as minority leader of the county Board of Supervisors, he would likely become the chairman if the Democrats take control of the board in November. The party now holds a slim lead over the GOP in registration, so that goal is technically within reach. But Mr. McGivney faces a challenge from Republican Pat Grattan, a former mayor of Valatie, who has faulted Mr. McGivney for his support of the DSS move.

Now, all of a sudden, Mr. McGivney produces a plan that could yield welcome results: He has convinced his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to explore having the state Dormitory Authority review all the county’s current space needs and recommend the best way to solve them. Imagine that—looking at the whole picture instead of the parts.

It’s such a good idea that its fate shouldn’t depend on the answer from the Dormitory Authority. If that agency can’t do the job, the county should find another entity that can. Until then the county should put its optional plans, including the DSS move, on hold until the evaluation is complete. It makes you wonder, if this much change is possible before the election, what would happen if more people actually did go out and vote.

10 July 2009

In the news

More reaction to the July 8 DASNY decision by the county Board of Supervisors
(Register-Star, July 10)

Reaction mixed on DASNY plan
by Jamie Larson

Reactions were mixed Thursday, on a resolution unanimously passed by the Columbia County Board of Supervisors Wednesday night to bring a powerful third party state authority into the discussion on a number of large county capital projects.

The resolution allows the Board to evaluate the possibility of bringing in the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York in to consult and possibly work directly on and help finance plans including the moving of the Department of Social Services out of Hudson to the Ockawamick school building in Claverack, homeless housing, county courthouse renovations and others.

The DSS move is currently the most publicly controversial plan on the list and officials discussed with the Register-Star what role DASNY could potentially play in the planning.

The resolution was proposed by Supervisor Doug McGinney, D-Kinderhook, who says the services provided by DASNY are almost too good to be true, adding they have expertise on all aspects of government projects. He says he is not looking to stop the Ockawamick project while they consult DASNY, but he feels the input of an objective third party may help put opposition to the Ockawamick move in Hudson and elsewhere to rest, as well as help prioritize the numerous other projects facing the county during difficult economic times.

“I still agree with the decision we made,” McGivney said, “I’m not flip-flopping on my position at all. There are other people that do not agree, people I have respect for, so I’m not opposed to other people coming in and offering their opinion.”

While the resolution addresses other projects as well, the fact that it involves taking another look at DSS possibilities is encouraging to some who are fighting against the plan. “Any request for an outside agency to intervene, I would be agreeable with that,” Hudson Mayor Richard Scalera said, “But I’m not sure yet what they are asking DASNY to do.”

Scalera, Who has proposed a plan that would keep DSS in Hudson, said McGivney’s position is somewhat counterintuitive. “I really have major reservations about having someone stop and look at it while the project is moving forward,” Scalera said, “it’s kind of like moon walking. I’m not sure how you do that.”

Scalera said it sometimes feels like the county decision making process moves too fast and is done on the spur of the moment. “There is nothing wrong with saying, ‘look maybe we should stop what we’re doing for a while.’ ”

As of last Tuesday, putting the DSS Ockawamick relocation on hold to asses other possible options is the new position of Supervisor James Keegan, R-Claverack. Keegan was on the Board in the early 1990’s when they used DASNY to help plan the still pending renovation of the courthouse and says while he would like to slow down the DSS plan he thinks DASNY is probably the wrong organization to look to for conflict resolution. “I don’t think it has anything to do with it,” Keegan said, “And I don’t want to spend any more money on consultants.”

Keegan did vote for McGivney’s resolution. “I voted yes because it doesn’t commit us to anything,” Keegan said, “My idea is to slow this thing down because of the economic situation. Let’s prioritize and then move forward.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Art Baer, R-Hillsdale, said there is no reason to put Ockawamick planning on hold while consulting with DASNY. He said the county hasn’t broken ground on construction in Claverack yet and there is no reason to stop planning for a consultation, especially when no one yet knows what type of services can be made available through the authority. We’ve always said we’ve been willing to look at different options,” Baer said, “but we have deadlines and we’ve invested a lot in the proposal we have. All that needs to go on. If DASNY can see how to do that better, we welcome their input.”

Baer said where DASNY will eventually become helpful is when the county is looking for bonds for the renovations of the courthouse and Ockawamick. The chairman also wanted to make the point that the Ockawamick building will be used by the county for more offices than just DSS, so there is no reason to consider stopping work on the project because of the controversy over social service relocation.

“Until we sit down with DASNY we won’t know exactly what they can do,” Baer said, “That’s why I’m reluctant to throw the emergency break on.”

09 July 2009

Supes seek cover behind DASNY; prep to move DSS will not stop

From the July 9 edition of the Register-Star:
Supervisor Doug McGivney, D-Kinderhook, introduced a new resolution at the last minute at the Columbia County Board of Supervisors Full Board meeting Wednesday evening. . . .

'We have a number of projects we need to finance,' said Board of Supervisors Chairman Art Baer, R-Hillsdale. DASNY has worked with the county before. 'We’re not stopping anything,' he said, 'just having a third party look at options. By having this third party group, hopefully it will take some of the contentiousness out of the discussion going forward.'

. . . Baer said he hopes to look into bonding to fund projects such as the renovation of the County Courthouse, which is not handicap accessible, and the proposal to move the Department of Social Services to the former Ockawamick school building.

'That’s one of the areas I think they would provide us potentially with some assistance,' he said. 'I think we’re going to expose them to the process that the Board went through, let them take a look at the data, and if they can come up with some other option, then we’re certainly going to listen to it.'

'At the same time, we’re not going to pull the emergency brake and stop all our actions with respect to engineering and design with respect to Ockawamick,' said Baer. . . .

The resolution was presented to the Democratic caucus without prior notice, just before the full board meeting Wednesday night. The full text of the resolution (put forward by McGivney and seconded by Supervisor William Hughes, D-Hudson4) follows.

Whereas, Columbia County is faced with several capital projects involving space needs for offices as well as undressed historical needs. Those projects are:

1. Department of Social Services
This is a situation involving the expiration of a long term lease in 2011. The leased building is in poor condition, not capable of expansion and is too small for current operations. Through in-house expertise with some hired appraisers and engineering firms, phase 1 environmental studies and appraisals were obtained and analyzed on several alternative sites and buildings. No suitable buildings were found within the City of Hudson, but an unused school of 77,000 square feet with 20 plus acres of land was located about 6 miles from Hudson. It was purchased for 1.5 million dollars; with a view to renovation for the housing of DSS as well as other county agencies. A satellite DSS office was anticipated for the City of Hudson, based on a concentrated need.

2. Columbia County Court House
There has been an outstanding consent order to provide handicap accessibility. In addition, the NYS Office of Court Administration desires multimillion dollar improvements. We have the money for the handicap improvement but will have to borrow the money for the OSC improvements.

3. Office of the District Attorney
The District Attorney has, for years, been squeezed into an old jail building, which has been totally inadequate. This inadequacy is to the extent of being an embarrassment and danger to those using the building.

4. Homeless housing
The number of homeless has doubled in the last 2 years. The cost of temporary shelter obtained by renting hotel rooms is approaching 1.4 million dollars per year. The situation is growing. A temporary solution has been suggested by the DSS Commissioner -- through the mechanism of a long term agreement by which a guaranteed occupancy rate would be assured -- and a discounted room rate obtained. This solution was found undesirable by the City of Hudson leadership.

5. 610 State Street
Is a building owned by the County in the City of Hudson that may be sold and returned to the tax rolls if certain departments were relocated to the renovated school site.

6. Senior housing
There is a recognized need to address senior housing of all types for our aging population and our Pine Haven Nursing Home is a facility needing eventual (not immediate) rehabilitation to meet current senior needs.

Whereas, several plans and proposals have been put forth but have also generated public controversy leading to a divisive and sometimes contentious community atmosphere,

Whereas, the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York offers many services to municipalities concerning the office and building needs in the form of study, planning, advising, consulting and even building and financing of needed buildings.

Now Therefore, the Columbia County Board of Supervisors endorses the concept of exploring the obtaining and retention of the services of the DASNY for the purposes of review, study and recommendations concerning all aspects of building or capital needs of Columbia County.

[July 8, 2009]

07 July 2009

Call to gather Wednesday (full BOS meeting)

Join us at the regular meeting of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors meeting 7:30 p.m., Wednesday (July 8) at 401 State Street,
in beautiful downtown Hudson, New York.

The controversial decision to move the Department of Social Services away from Hudson (the county seat) to an abandoned school in Claverack, still stands. The so-called OCKAWAMICK PLAN, formulated by BOS Chairman Art Baer, and his select inner circle -- Doug McGivney, Linda Scheer, Roy Brown, Phil Williams and county Public Works Commissioner Dave Robinson -- is steadily moving forward.

We must continue to question and hold this gang of out-of-touch county bosses accountable for their decisions. They must be continually reminded that their actions have serious real-life implications for the people who put them there.

Under the OP, 64 percent of the department's clients (many without access to a private vehicle) will be forced to travel six miles to Claverack, located in the middle of a rural county without a public transportation system.

In the words of an unidentified social worker (one of many individuals who fear retribution for speaking the truth): They might as well be moving the office 600 miles away. The hardship this places on people who struggle against sizable odds to get services is already hard enough.

The continual attention and public resistance has had an effect -- we cannot give up. As a direct result of the public outcry and resistance, a key member of the Board of Supervisors has now reversed his position on the project. Longtime Claverack supervisor James Keegan announced his "change of heart" in the July 7 edition of the Register-Star:

"Keegan, who initially voted for the plan to move DSS, told the Register-Star that in light of the vocal opposition to the plan from the city and around the county, he now believes other options should be considered. 'I think we need to retool and pull back and study the situation,' Keegan said, 'I’d be willing to take another look at this thing.' …"

Keegan is not only an important member of the Republican caucus (and former acting BOS Chairman), he also controls 349 votes under the board's weighted vote system -- the second largest voting block in the county. (Minority Leader and Ockawamick supporter McGivney controls the largest block of votes with 433).

Unfortunately for the citizens of Columbia County, the DSS debacle is just #1 on the now all-too-familiar list of harebrained ideas formulated by the current county leadership. The most recent bright idea by the county bosses was to house the county's homeless in a historic landmark hotel located in the center of downtown Hudson. This stroke of genius brought the business community out in a rage and Chair Baer backed off the ridiculous idea just prior to the July 4th holiday, putting it on hold.

But the bad news just keeps coming. Recently, we learned that the Chair is faced with another significant facilities issue -- Albany is getting ready to "sanction" the county for its failure to make county courthouse accessible to the handicapped. And why is this an issue now? Because the county failed to comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act for more than 20 years!

As a direct result of this significant failure in leadership, a capitol region news reporter was reduced to literally crawling up the courthouse stairs just to be able to do their job. The county now has to work overtime to fix the problem it let slide for far too long.

When this latest debacle came to light, Chair Baer was asked how the county planned to correct the problem. He told the local press, "… the county plans to obtain funding for this project [renovation of the courthouse] as part of a larger bond which combines other projects, including renovations to the former Ockawamick School, which is proposed as the new headquarters of the county Department of Social Services. The bond would be for around $20 million." (Register-Star, July 2, 2009).

So, even before county lawmakers "fessed up" to the true cost of the Ockawamick Plan, the price tag is growing. This is not how smart business is conducted. If the Chair was the CEO of a major corporation the reasoning behind his flawed decision-making would most certainly be questioned at this point. Ockawamick, Pine Haven, the courthouse. The man calling the shots is the same man who wanted to turn the only hotel in the county into a homeless shelter. When will it end?

Please come to this meeting. Your presence will send a message. Demand accountability from elected officials. Demand transparency. Although the county government continually slams the door in our faces, we can't give up.

Services should be located where the people are -- and that's in Hudson. We ask that you support the plan to KEEP DSS IN HUDSON, where it belongs. Join us. It is far from over.

7:30 p.m., Wednesday (July 8) at 401 State Street, Hudson

Any questions, please contact Linda Mussmann at 209-7966
Check back at http://dsswatch.blogspot.com to learn more.

25 June 2009

New Face of Homelessness: Hardworking, Healthy and Addiction-Free

Recently Homeless Don't Fit Classic Sterotype
by Stephanie Sy
ABC News
June 20, 2009

On a busy street in Charlotte, N.C., a clean-cut woman stood on the sidewalk wearing a handwritten sign: "MOTHER OF THREE -- LOST MY JOB, ABOUT TO BE EVICTED, PLEASE HELP ME."

She said she was from the neighboring city of Kannapolis and didn't want to give her name out of fear her children would find out that she is begging on the street. She'd lost her job as a store clerk and blames the economy for not being able to find a new job. Panhandling was the only way to pay her rent, she said.

The woman is an extreme case of a growing trend -- Americans who find themselves on the brink of homelessness after losing their jobs. The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that, because of the recession, as many as a million additional Americans may become homeless in the next two years.

For lower-income working families, it means one poor decision can rapidly deteriorate into a maelstrom of debt and financial problems.

Many of the newly homeless do not fit the stereotype of homelessness. They may be hard-working, healthy and addiction-free.

The Jurado family has been technically homeless for six months. Pat Jurado and her husband, who preferred to remain anonymous, are supporting two sons, ages 2 and 5.

Even with dual incomes, with both spouses making about $16 an hour, the Jurados struggled to pay the bills in Paterson, N.J.

"He was working eight hours, I was working eight hours a day, but it still wasn't enough," said Jurado. "I felt like I needed a change."

Noticing more experienced co-workers getting laid off and thinking she could be next, Pat Jurado decided to move the family to Charlotte, N.C., where she thought she had lined up a higher paying job in accounts receivable and payable. She also expected the cost of living to be less in North Carolina.

But once the Jurados got to Charlotte, the position had been filled. With no savings and no home, the Jurados were forced to move in with a relative. Ten people crowded into a three-bedroom apartment.

More and more families are economizing by doubling-up in a single home, but for the Jurados, it was an unmanageable situation.

"It was chaos," said Pat Jurado. "We were literally on top of each other. We had a lot of bumping heads."

Depending on Public Assistance for the First Time
The Jurados were saved from having to go to a shelter by the local charity A Child's Place. The organization works with many of the 3,000 children in Charlotte-Mecklenberg public schools who are homeless and helps their families obtain everything from housing to health insurance.

The Jurados were given a two-bedroom apartment for six months rent-free.

"Sometimes folks just need a ... period where they can get back on their feet, where they can save some money for a [rent] deposit," said Annabelle Suddreth, the organization's executive director.

Jurado said she's never had to depend on charity or public assistance.

"I've been working since I was 19, and I'm 33 now. This is the first time that I haven't worked for six months," she said. "I don't want to be in this place. ... This is not one of my dreams."

Suddreth said many of the families her organization works with are not to blame for their financial plight.
"Whether it was an illness, the loss of a job, trusting in a subprime mortage loan that went wrong ... so many times a lot of these folks are just a victim of circumstance," said Suddreth.

A Child's Place has made the Jurados one of the more fortunate families. Across the country, homeless shelters are overflowing, tent cities are cropping up on the West Coast, and people are living in cars.

When given an assignment to draw a picture of his home, one child in Charlotte asked a volunteer whether he could draw the parking lot where his mother parked the family van every night.

Homeless Numbers Increasing
The effects of homelessness on children can be devastating. They may be twice as likely to get sick, fall behind two or three grade levels, and face mental and emotional problems.

"The numbers are increasing because of the economic challenge," said Suddreth. "The needs are growing. Where we once used to focus on what the child needs to be successful in school, now we're looking at basic needs like food."

Many of the nation's new homeless are also cropping up in pay-by-week motels.

Adrienne Carothers makes about $12 an hour as a teacher's assistant. You would never suspect she is homeless, but she has been living in a cramped motel room since March.

A single mother with three grown children, Carothers has always struggled to support the family. The final straw was when she recently sunk a month's pay into fixing up a rental that, she said, she was later unfairly evicted from.

With nothing left for another security deposit, she moved into a motel. Carothers said the wait list for public housing is too long.

To make matters worse, she recently was told she might not have a job next school year.

Carothers has gotten a part-time job for the summer at the YMCA that pays $8 an hour, not nearly enough to pay for the motel.

When asked what she'd do next, she could only say, "I'm not sure. Do I worry about it? Yeah, I worry about it every day. ... I break down and have to cry sometimes, because I don't see a way out."

Copyright © 2009 ABC News Internet Ventures

24 June 2009

More news

City seeks moratorium on homeless shelters
June 24, 2009

HUDSON — At a special meeting of the Hudson City Common Council Tuesday night, the council voted unanimously to enact a new local law establishing a one year moratorium on the “expansion of existing, and the creation of new, transitional housing and homeless shelters, in excess of four units, within the city.”

Charles Williams suggested for shelter
Proposal subject to Common Council approval
June 23, 2009

HUDSON — Hudson officials announced Monday, a proposal, pending Common Council approval, to sell the vacant Charles Williams school building, on the corner of Second and Robinson streets, to the county for use as transitional housing for the county’s homeless women, children and intact families.

Committees reviewing costs for renovations, construction
June 23, 2009

HUDSON — At a county building and facilities meeting on Monday, Chairman Roy Brown announced that an “Opinion of Cost” solicitation is being prepared for the renovation of the former Ockawamick School building. Another opinion of cost solicitation is being prepared for the construction of a new, 40,000-square-foot office building and parking garage at the intersection of Columbia Street and Fourth Street in the city of Hudson.

From the editorial page

Start over with St. Charles
The Columbia Paper editorial
June 22, 2009

MY, MY. IF THIS COUNTY gets any more efficient it will make more money than it spends, and everybody who lives here will get a big fat dividend check at the end of the year instead of a tax bill. Sounds like paradise.

You might think the county is well on its way to this mythical goal based on the crowing this week from the leadership of the Board of Supervisors over its latest proposal. Board Chairman Art Baer (R-Hillsdale) and his supporters believe the taxpayers could save as much as $400,000 a year to house, feed and transport our neediest neighbors if the county leases the St. Charles Hotel-the only sizeable hotel in the county-as an emergency housing facility. The hotel would also become a satellite office for the Department of Social Services (DSS) after that department moves to Claverack in 2011.

That's a big savings, and the figures have a basis in fact. But the way this proposal surfaced suddenly out of nowhere gives it a nasty odor that won't go away anytime soon.

The St. Charles proposal establishes a concrete link between two challenges facing the DSS: the controversial plan to move its headquarters out of Hudson, where the people who need the department's services are concentrated, and the growing number of people in the county who need the emergency shelter services provided by the DSS.

Start with the statistics: in 2008, the county averaged 51 people living in 41 different rooms scattered around Columbia and Greene counties paid for by the DSS. In March of this year, the census was 88 people in 69 rooms rented by the county. Comparing one winter month to a full year's average can be misleading, but the general trend reflects these hard times.

It cost the county $1.2 million last year to house, feed and transport people who need emergency help, and the costs this year will undoubtedly go up. The costs are driven in part by the price of the motel rooms used for emergency shelter. Right now the county pays between $65 and $95 a night for rooms at private motels.

The county estimates it could lease all 34 rooms in the St. Charles for less than $43 a night, a big savings. And the price includes the first floor, which the DSS would turn into an office space. That's where the DSS would put its "satellite" office when the department leaves Hudson for the Claverack countryside six miles away. The satellite office is supposed to cushion the impact of the move on people who need emergency services but who won't have an easy way of getting to the new DSS headquarters. An added benefit to the first floor of the hotel is that it's six times larger than the space in another building the county originally intended to use for the satellite office. That means more services would be available to people in Hudson.

So what's not to like about a proposal that officials promote as safer, more convenient emergency housing at a lower cost?

For one thing, it's not clear how warehousing roughly half the county's population of people in need of emergency shelter will affect them, the neighborhood, the business community and city schools (many of the homeless "people" are children).

The impact isn't clear because this proposal was hatched in such secrecy that the mayor and other city officials knew nothing about it until an hour or so before the county released it to the public. Think about the arrogance it takes to propose a major infrastructure change like this without any input from the citizens of Hudson, who must live with the result. What breathtaking contempt for the public. County officials call it only a proposal, but no matter what they call it, the plan is now tainted as a deal done behind closed doors.

Though the proposal to convert the only hotel rooms in the county into an emergency homeless shelter comes packaged as a higher good, it feels like a betrayal of the public trust. It dictates what must happen before the people hear a full and open airing of the facts. Our elected leaders assure us they have the best of intentions, but their actions exhibit disdain for the people they've sworn to serve and reveal their willingness to abandon the messy process of democracy for methods that smack of authoritarian rule.

21 June 2009

In the news

Commissioner reveals number of homeless to be housed
by Francesca Olsen
June 20, 2009

HUDSON — Controversy surrounding the St. Charles Hotel and the possibility of it becoming a spot for emergency housing continues. With 34 rooms in the hotel and 74 eligible members in the caseload as of June, the issue is becoming more complicated.

According to Social Services Commissioner Paul Mossman, there are 74 homeless residents in the current caseload: one couple without children, 29 single males, eight single women, six single women with children, and four “intact families” — a mother and father and children. Within this group, 21 children are currently housed.

Social Services is currently using 14 motels, including three in Greene County, for emergency housing. With 34 rooms and no option for single males, the hotel may not be used at full capacity.

“We have enough families, single women and single women with children to easily fill the St. Charles,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Art Baer, R-Hillsdale. “As far as I know, there’s no issue on that.” ...

“There’s no figures that can qualify using a landmark hotel as a homeless shelter,” said Hudson Mayor Rick Scalera. “There’s no excuse to use the St. Charles Hotel as a homeless shelter.” ...


The June 15 Department of Social Services press release announcing the proposed "use of the St. Charles Hotel for emergency housing and satellite office" can be found here.

County looks at St. Charles for homeless shelter
by John Mason
June 16, 2009

COLUMBIA COUNTY - The 139-year-old St. Charles Hotel, 16 Park Place, Hudson, may soon be the home of the homeless in Columbia County. Social Services Commissioner Paul Mossman got approval from the Board of Supervisors' Human Services Committee Monday "to negotiate and prepare a lease agreement with the St. Charles Hotel for Department of Social Services purposes."

These purposes are two, emergency housing and DSS offices. Mossman said he is investigating entering a long-term, seven-year lease with a company interested in purchasing the St. Charles. The arrangement could save the county $400,000 a year, he said.

In a sentiment echoed by other Hudson elected officials, Mayor Rick Scalera criticized the county for "deliberating and negotiating over something that's going to take place in the city without including city officials. It isn't done anywhere."

The resolution passed Monday still has to be approved by the Finance Committee and the full Board of Supervisors.

To deal with the ballooning problem of homelessness in the county, Mossman said, the hotel's second and third floors, with 17 rooms each, would be used for emergency housing for homeless persons. The first floor, with 3,100 square feet, would be dedicated to a Hudson satellite office for DSS.

The owner, Mossman said, would be East Coast Realty, who would buy the hotel from its present owner, provide the hotel rooms to the county, and provide security and a 24/7 desk clerk.

Combining DSS with emergency housing would make its services easily available to a large number of its clientele, and would "minimize planned transportation costs to Ockawamick," Mossman said. The main DSS office is slated to be moved to the former Ockawamick School on Route 217 in Claverack, six miles from Hudson. A bus that would have offered DSS clients free transport, making seven round-trips daily between Hudson and Ockawamick, was projected to cost the county $100,000 a year.

Currently, homeless persons are housed in hotels around the county, which is costly to the county both for the hotel stays and transportation.

The emergency housing on the second and third floors would go first to single-parent families, then two-parent families, then to single women, Mossman said. For safety issues, single males would remain in other hotels.

Mossman stressed that this is a first step in a plan to centralize housing for the homeless. Single males, he said, may at some point be housed in centralized transitional housing providing supportive services such as drug treatment; the Rev. Peter Young of Albany operates such facilities and has spoken to Human Services Committee members about possible sites in the county.

As for the first floor, the commissioner said the satellite office will provide help with emergency housing, applications for temporary assistance, food stamps, Medicaid and employment services.

But 3,100 square feet, he said, isn't room enough for "every service we provide at DSS." So, he said, he has been trying to minimize the need for Hudson residents to travel to Ockawamick. "We took a survey of our high-end user programs, and what are the needs of the families that come through the doors," he said. "If someone has public assistance, their need to come to the building is minimal - once a year." If they're on food stamps, they can phone in or mail their recent information, he said.

The satellite office would also be a document drop-off site for applicants.

"Nothing has been decided or finalized," Mossman said. "This was all based on information gathered over a couple of months. I think it's a win-win as the first stage in a multi-step process."

In addition to saving money, the centralization would also facilitate better supervision of and security for the clients, he said.

"If we let an opportunity like this go by us, I'll be coming back to the Board of Supervisors next year," Mossman said, "saying homelessness is up 20 to 30 percent from last year."

The commissioner first unveiled the plan in a power point presentation to an executive session of a joint meeting of the Human Services and Buildings and Facilities committees, in a room packed as well with several supervisors on neither committee. Meanwhile, a large group of county residents, asked to leave the exclusive meeting, waited for more than an hour in the hallway of 401 State St., where Scalera filled them in on what was transpiring.

He noted that if, as Mossman suggested, the satellite office would satisfy 75 percent of Hudson's social services needs, the plan meant more than 20,000 visits to the St. Charles from DSS clients annually.

"You're taking a landmark hotel," he said. "[Baer] is claiming it hasn't been kept up that way."

"It's not that debilitated," said Alderwoman Wanda Pertilla, D-2nd Ward.

"It's another decision behind closed doors," Scalera said.

"DSS is a beast," Pertilla said. "There's no way the St. Charles could hold the process these families go through. These families are anxious, nervous, there's no way this would work."

"Hudson's been left out consistently," said Linda Mussmann.

Scalera said his position has always been that the city would take transitional housing if DSS would stay in the city, but not if it moved to Ockawamick.

"This is the slap in the face I've been biting all weekend," he said.

Joan Steiner said the Claverack Town Board had traded away its right to have a say in the process for "two acres we don't want," referring to the acreage at Ockawamick on which the town could build its town hall within the next decade.

Howard Brandston of Claverack said it doesn't fit with the town's Comprehensive Plan, and Hudson Alderwoman Carole Osterink, D-First Ward, said it also doesn't fit with the county Strategic Plan put together by Baldwin, Bell and Green in 2008.

That study described a lack of hotel rooms in the county as a major limitation to the tourism economy.

"Suddenly, you're going to take a landmark hotel and repurpose it," she said. "It doesn't make sense. Remember that Ken Flood wasn't part of the discussion."

In a press release, Board of Supervisors Chairman Art Baer, R-Hillsdale, praised the plan as both more cost-effective and more secure for the clients than the present situation.

But Brandston said, "Nobody's looking at planning."

Chamber of Commerce President David Colby said county Planning and Economic Development Director Ken Flood "didn't know anything about it."

Flood did not deny this.

"The Board of Supervisors set policy," he said. "I fully support their policies."

He said he's working with the Tourism Board on ways to attract the construction of a full-service hotel.

"The market would demand it be in the Hudson area, whether near the new Hudson park or in the city," he said. As for transitional housing, he said locating it near the services people need, such as grocery stores, medical and social services, and co-locating it near the social services satellite office all seem reasonable, and said, "That's where planning, community involvement and decision-making play a role in the location of transitional housing."

After the executive session, a public meeting of the Human Services Committee was conducted in the supervisors' chambers on the first floor, in which Mossman gave his power point presentation again.

Supervisors William C. Hughes Jr., D-Hudson4, and Ed Cross, D-Hudson2, both chastised Mossman for not including anyone from Hudson in the decision-making process.

Noting that the county has a problem with homeless people taking up hotel rooms, Scalera said, "So, we're taking up 69 hotel rooms in a county starving for hotel rooms, and yet we're taking 34 more hotel rooms. This isn't the answer: We need to get serious about a homeless shelter."

City Treasurer Eileen Halloran asked if there was data about the root cause of homelessness.

"Years ago, there were certain landlords who rented to people on public assistance," said DSS Director of Income Maintenance Lynn Kutski. "They've sold their properties, they're no longer renting them. There's just no affordable housing: Where are you going to get an apartment for $328 a month?"

Later, Hudson elected officials and politicians expressed their outrage.

Pertilla said the decision, made under the radar, was a disservice to her constituents.

"The majority of citizens that frequent Social Services are from my ward," she said. "It's too bad we can't sit down and come to a compromise. It's getting ugly."

"The assumption is they can affront Hudson and it doesn't matter to the rest of the county," said Don Moore, Democratic candidate for Common Council president. "They're looking at this as a piece of the bureaucratic puzzle ... but not at the economic impact on this city and the rest of the county ... I can't believe they adequately reviewed the numbers."

"I'm getting completely fed up with the idea that the county knows best what's best for the city of Hudson," Scalera told the Register-Star. "You cannot take a landmark hotel and turn it into a homeless shelter: It can't and it shouldn't be done. The county has been using hotel rooms for 20 years. Over the course of 20 years, I believe a bell would have gone off, 'Get serious about building a homeless shelter.' Instead, they look at this as a great opportunity, the St. Charles is for sale. This is another one we're going to fight."

Hughes conveyed similar sentiments.

"The county has no right to come in when we in the city are trying to develop our business, through our Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, which will lead to the development of the waterfront, leading into Warren Street," he said. "Having a landmark building right smack dab at the end of the business corridor turned into a homeless shelter is an outrage. This whole thing is a fairy tale: It's almost laughable, if these guys weren't serious."

Hughes said he is not opposed to siting emergency housing in the city.

"We could have sat down and found a suitable location where people could agree to it," he said. "To have it forced down our throats this way is totally unfair."

But Mossman said the plan would be good for all county residents.

"If I can cut the costs of a room rent by 45 to 50 percent, that's a big savings," he said. "Plus being closer to services, and being able to work with individuals and families - it would be more efficient."

04 June 2009

"I look at these graphs and see a lot of sacrificial lambs for the county."
Supervisor Ed Cross, D-Hudson2
Bottom Line Community Workshop
Shiloh Baptist Church
June 3, 2009
(Click on images to enlarge and/or print.)

03 June 2009

(Click on image to enlarge and/or print.)

02 June 2009

Just the facts

  • No other county in New York has its main human services office outside the county seat.
  • Columbia County DSS had 33,000 visitors in 2008; the majority lived in the 12534 zip code.
  • People are struggling, so the number of DSS visitors will not diminish anytime soon. In 2008, the county expended $!.2 million on housing alone for the homeless, double the amount spent in 2006.
  • Approximately 30 percent of the county's residents and families living in poverty, live in Hudson.
  • Low income residents of Hudson are far more likely to be without easy access to a car or a telephone.
  • Columbia County is without a public transportation system. The Board of Supervisors did not approve a plan to transport people when the decision was made to move DSS to Claverack.
  • DSS spent $121,334.02 for taxi service in 2008.
  • Nearly half (44 percent) of DSS clients who live within the city of Hudson now walk to the agency.
  • Nearly 50 percent -- one half -- of the families with children in Hudson live below the poverty level, as compared to 16 percent countywide.
  • During one four-day period in 2008, the number of DSS clients from Claverack constituted 2 percent of the department's visitors; 48 percent were from Hudson.
  • Almost 14 percent of Hudson's senior citizens live in poverty, compared to 6.8 percent countywide.
  • The same clients that are dependent on the human services provided by the county rely on the assistance of more than 20 non-profit organizations located in or near Hudson, as well.
  • After Hudson, the next largest group visiting DSS were from Catskill (7 percent).
  • The overwhelming majority of DSS visitors (88 percent) come to the office without a scheduled appointment.
  • In 2008, Eight-nine percent (89 percent) of DSS visitors travel 30 minutes or less to reach the department; 48 percent reached the Railroad St. office in less than 15 minutes.
Source(s): DSS client traffic survey (July 21 to 25, 2008); DSS Visitor Population Survey (April 14 through June 30, 2008); Columbia Opportunities Inc.
(Click on image to enlarge and/or print.)

31 May 2009

Friday, May 28, 2009

BOTTOM LINE: Community Workshop Wednesday
Information sharing, community questions and Plan D are on the agenda

HUDSON -- The BOTTOM LINE will host an informational workshop 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesday, June 3, on the current plan to move the Columbia County Department of Social Services away from Hudson to Claverack. The workshop will present new information and clarify ongoing issues in an effort to aid members of the community to better understand the impact this decision will have on their lives. The meeting will take place in the all-purpose room at Shiloh Baptist Church, 14 Warren Street, Hudson.

Several alternatives emerged both before, and since county lawmakers purchased the former Ockawamick School (Route 217 in Claverack) for $1.5 million, and then formulated the "Ockawamick Plan," to move 15 county departments outside of Hudson, the county seat. First there was Plan B, then C. The Bottom Line would like to continue the discussion with the presentation of another option -- Plan D.

Plan D is the most economical suggestion thus far, and calls for maintaining the primary DSS office at its current location on Railroad Avenue. This option includes the construction of a new addition to the existing building, and office reorganization, along with a healthy dose of efficient space management. Plan D would cost an estimated $3 million. The pros and cons of this idea will be part of the discussion on Wednesday.

The Bottom Line wants to continue to hear from the public. Come and share your thoughts on the plan that will relocate DSS six miles into the countryside, next door to a country club. While the location may be appealing to the individuals that constitute the county Board of Supervisors, it is not a place easily accessible to mothers with children, the disabled and the elderly, those who are mandated to visit the office on a regular basis.

County human services, along with a network of supporting professionals and organizations, are located within Hudson and must remain in place. The Columbia County Courthouse, Columbia Memorial Hospital and many law offices serve the same clientele. And because public transportation does not exist, basic accessibility to services is the issue.

What's more, with this decision, the county leadership signaled its intention to dismantle the county seat. The relocation of DSS is just one part of the scheme, but it is arguably the most destructive because it will require massive busing of Hudson and Greenport residents (more than 60 percent of all DSS clients reside in the 12534 zip code).

"We are not convinced that 'busing people' is an idea that is prudent for a number of reasons," said Linda Mussmann. "Mainly because it will further stigmatize people already having a hard time. It's a cruel decision and wrong."

"The idea is wrong on a practical level. While the location may have been suitable for a school of the late 20th century it is totally inappropriate for a human services building in the 21st, a time when we must cut down on fuel consumption," Mussmann said.

"Our elected officials -- Art Baer, Doug McGivney, Phil Williams, Linda Scheer and Roy Brown, in particular -- are making bad choices. The decision to expand outside the city is foolish because this is a time when we should be developing the ways and means of using small cities to be thrifty and sensible," Mussmann said.

Join us Wednesday night to learn more about how this plan will impact our community, and to voice your opinion. Be informed, write or call your elected officials. Tell your chosen representatives what you think about this plan to destroy the centralized delivery of human services.

"Stop the sprawl y'all!"

Join us 6 p.m., Wednesday (June 3) at Shiloh Baptist Church,14 Warren Street, Hudson.

About the Bottom Line:
Founded in 2001, the Bottom Line Party focuses on issues that effect the health, safety and economic well-being of all Hudson residents, but especially for the working class and poor.

14 May 2009

In the news

Opponents of DSS, Pine Haven moves ask supes to re-evaluate
by John Mason
May 14, 2009

COLUMBIA COUNTY — Although the Board of Supervisors went about its usual tasks at Wednesday’s full board meeting, creating and filling positions, distributing mortgage taxes, awarding contracts and making proclamations, their bubble was pierced by the buzz on the sidewalk outside, in the seats on the periphery of the chamber, in end-of-the-meeting remarks by discontented supervisors and in the hallway after the meeting.

The buzz was about Ockawamick, as it has been for 14 months, and Pine Haven, as it has been for four months. The supervisors’ plan is to move the Department of Social Services from Hudson to the former Ockawamick School in Claverack, six miles outside the county seat. And they are studying a proposal to move the Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center from Philmont to Kinderhook.

On the State Street sidewalk outside the front door, about 40 people held signs that said things like “Keep Pine Haven in Philmont,” “Keep DSS in Hudson,” and “What about us.”

“Let’s stop the secret upstairs meetings,” intoned Al Wassenhove through a bullhorn. “Let’s have the facts, folks. Keep DSS in Hudson. Give [Hudson Mayor Rick] Scalera a seat at the table.”

Linda Mussmann and Claudia Bruce led choruses of “It’s a Long Way to Ockawamick.”

“Who sold this piece of asbestos laden junk to us?” asked Ockawamick move opponent Dan Udell of Taghkanic. “Who unloaded this on us? What were the terms and conditions? We were never told. It was a solution without a problem. It was never discussed.”

“It’s a totally inhuman thing to do this to people who are so helpless and need so much support to get on a bus,” said Mary Udell. “People with health problems, sight problems, elderly — it’s inhuman. The supervisors want to hollow out Hudson. This hurts the economy of Hudson and the people who are in need, when it’s supposed to help them.”

Pine Haven employee Ruth Taylor said she was there to keep Pine Haven county owned and operated.

If the move to Kinderhook happens, she said, “more than likely they’ll privatize certain departments — laundry, housekeeping and kitchen.”

Lorraine Decker, a 23-year employee of the home, said she didn’t know if long-time employees of the home would be able to travel the distance to the proposed new location.

Home employee Martha Hoyt said, “The care’s wonderful, the people are wonderful, the ambulance response time is tremendous.”

She said she didn’t understand why Kinderhook would need two skilled nursing facilities, Pine Haven and Barnwell.

Where were the supervisors while the people were out on the streets? Supervisor Tom Dias, R-Ancram, and a few Hudson supervisors were out talking to them. The rest were apparently in ill-lit rooms.

At the end of the board meeting, when supervisors are usually visibly anxious to adjourn, Supervisor Ed Cross, D-Hudson2, rose to address his peers.

“I walked into the Democratic caucus,” he said. “The lights were out.” He noticed the same thing in the Republicans’ caucus, he said.

“We’re a team,” Cross said. “If something’s wrong and someone sees, it’s up to them to tell it. I said months ago the purchase was wrong. We tried to squeeze DSS in there, make it fit. Why do we need to put it there so quickly? Are we afraid the building will turn to a pumpkin?”

He referred the supervisors to a list of questions he had placed on their desks.

“Look at them, in your solitude,” he said. “Talk to your constituents. We are a team. We’re supposed to be working together. We’re not doing that.”

The questions cover such issues as financing, public referendum, cost of the transportation plan, maintenance costs, DSS procedures and a host of others.

Supervisor William C. Hughes, D-Hudson4, rose next.

He said he and other Hudson supervisors had been criticized for making comments on Ockawamick.

“We wanted you to understand the depths of this decision,” he said. Both the Ockawamick and Pine Haven projects, Hughes said, need to have both cost analyses and humanistic analyses done.

Outside in the hallway, bed-and-breakfast owner Mary Koch accosted her supervisor, Republican James Keegan, over the Ockawamick plan.

He told her the plan will benefit Claverack because it gets two acres for a town hall, if built within the first 10 years.

Koch said this would come at the cost of hardships for the DSS clients who would have to travel to Claverack.

“What about the people in New Lebanon?” Keegan asked. “It doesn’t work out good when you don’t have a car and can’t get to Hudson.”

Claudia Bruce said 60 percent of the people using services are in the Hudson area, and Linda Mussman said people from the outlying towns who drive to DSS would rather come to Hudson to shop at the same time.

Koch said the plan would weaken Hudson, and that it was a bad time for a plan that increases gasoline consumption.

“We should be spending less money on oil,” she said.

“This was a good building that was going to go to waste,” Keegan said. “Now it’s a viable, working building.”

“It’s a mistake,” said Meg Cashen of Claverack. “You’ll be so sorry if you do it. It’s so unfair to the recipients.”

Keegan said people who were very close to him had had two deaf children. The mother never drove a car in her life, but got to DSS by bus.

“I’m not immune to this,” he said.

Mussmann asked what the difference was between taking the prison out of Hudson — an issue that unified almost all local leaders in their opposition to it — and taking DSS out of Hudson.

Koch argued that the Health Department and DSS should be located near each other because of the overlap in their clienteles.

“We’re all willing to work and try to help rationally get this idea to work,” Mussmann said. “But the doors were shut the minute the idea was floated.” She recalled that 29 people spoke against it at the only public hearing on the topic, with no supporters.

“All agency people,” Keegan said.

Bruce and Mussmann disputed this contention.

“Have one more public hearing,” Koch pleaded. “See what the people have to say.”

“2011 is coming upon us,” Keegan said, referring to the end of DSS’s lease with Tony Concra at 25 Railroad Ave., Hudson.

“You can’t rent it one more year?” Mussmann asked. “Give us a little more time.”

“Contractor costs are going up as you’re talking,” Keegan said.

“Hudson is a center of need,” Cross said. “A group that gets burnt out of this. Hudson will get burnt. This is all scripted for us poor folk to get out of town.”

13 May 2009

20 questions for the CC Board of Supervisors

  1. Was an appraisal done of the Ockawamick property before it was purchased?
  2. How will this project be financed? And who will finance it?
  3. Will there be a public referendum to approve the financing?
  4. How much will the debt service cost the taxpayers of Columbia County?
  5. What is the initial cost of creating a transportation plan? What will the financial impact be over a 10-year period? A 20-year period?
  6. How much of the transportation plan is federally reimbursable?
  7. Who’s on the short list for the bus contracts?
  8. What will it cost to maintain the new county campus?
  9. Will the health club and cafeteria be self-sustaining enterprises? Will those facilities be open to the public?
  10. Will child care be available at Ockawamick for client families?
  11. What does DSS currently spend on transportation, Medicaid reimbursable or not?
  12. What is the projected cost to create a communications infrastructure at Ockawamick? Is there broadband service available in Claverack or Philmont, and at what cost? How much money will it take to network that campus with the remaining county departments in Hudson?
  13. How many other counties in the state of New York maintain their primary human services office outside the county seat in a rural location, away from the majority of benefit recipients?
  14. Under the law, can the present Board of Supervisors encumber a future Board of Supervisors (and the taxpayers) with this kind of decision without voter approval?
  15. What happens during a routine DSS intake interview? What must potential recipients do to qualify for benefits?
  16. How long does the average DSS appointment take?
  17. How much time does a DSS worker now spend transporting clients to home, or other locations?
  18. How much does it cost the county to transport a DSS client from Hillsdale to Hudson today? How much will it cost the county to transport that same client to Ockawamick?
  19. Why didn’t the DSS commissioner participate in the County Workspace Evaluation Sub-Committee interview and survey process that was required for every other department head? If the commissioner did participate, where is the survey?
  20. Did your vote on the Ockawamick Plan reflect the consensus of your constituents? Did you solicit their opinions before each vote)? What percentage of your electorate thought this was a good idea?

26 April 2009

Plan 'B'

...In a Feb. 2 meeting at the Hudson Fire Station, citizens discussed 'Plan B,' an alternative to the Ockawamick idea.

Under Plan B a three-story, 38,000-square-foot building would be erected to house DSS on the northwestern corner of Fourth and Columbia streets. Across Fourth Street from that would be built a three-story parking garage with a 200-car capacity.

Behind the site of this new DSS building, across Long Alley, a new parking lot that would hold 60 vehicles is already being built.

Mayor Richard Scalera said the building would cost about $7.5 million and the garage would be $3.6 million, making a total of about $11 million, which he said is a $4 million savings compared to the $15 million Ockawamick is predicted to cost after renovation....
Supes vote on DSS move tonight
Department slated for Ockawamick
by John Mason
Mar. 11, 2009
(Click on images to enlarge)

Letter to the editor

Published Mar. 25, 2009
To the Editor:

Columbia County Board of Supervisors vote and decision to move the Department of Social Services out of the City of Hudson and to Ockawamick School in rural Claverack is not only the wrong decision, but it is extremely disappointing and outrageous. As one community-based organization director said, "This decision is going to outlast every elected official's term of office..this is a bad legacy."

To add insult to injury, several Supervisors who voted in favor of the decision had the audacity to say that "they listened to the people at the public hearings, the letters and all the other comments that people raised concerning the issues, the concerns for clients and workers." If that is the case, then how is it that they could come to this decision when every single person who spoke at the public hearing at the Hudson Middle School voiced their opposition to moving this agency out of Hudson? We can't recall any letter to the editor that thought this was a good idea. n addition, several human service agencies that provide regular services to DSS recipients have indicated the importance of keeping DSS in Hudson since many recipients require the services of multiple county and non-profit organizations.

No other county in New York State has its main social services office located outside of the County seat. Nassau County once proposed a similar proposition to move its Department of Social Services outside of the county seat. Because of public outcry and further review of the impact on the recipients, the plan was abandoned. You put the services where the majority of people being served live and where other support services are located.

After the public outcry when the plan to buy the Ockawamick School was first announced and it was suggested that DSS be moved there, the Board of Supervisors back stepped. It claimed it hadn't made any final decisions as to the move. A County Workspace Evaluation Subcommittee was created and over the next few months, supposedly it evaluated all county agencies' needs and even distributed a survey to all agency heads to fill out and submit. So why are the DSS survey results one of only two agencies (the other being the County District Attorney's Office) not published on the County website? We would be very interested in seeing the responses to the questions. Repeated requests for this information have been ignored. The public has a right to see the responses.

What is on the website is interesting-and telling. In the February 18 Subcommittee minutes, Chairman Baer said, responding to a question regarding satellite office for Department of Social Services in Hudson, stated it would be "just an intake office for people that could not make it to Ockawamick or need to be seen in Hudson on an emergency basis." It was added that "all administration, major support services and case workers would be located at Ockawamick." Later in that same meeting, a Supervisor asked how many clients need services of multiple County Departments. The response he received, "That information is not available." That's not true-if you look at the responses received from other agency heads, many of them mention the overlap with DSS clients. The information is available. The Subcommittee just didn't ask for it. It's clear from these responses that the satellite office is in no way intended to be a fully functioning office. Kudos to Supervisors Betty Young, Bart Delaney and William Hughes, Jr. for calling into question the adequateness of the satellite office. One of them described this office truly what it is-"a political band-aid that would do nothing for the clients." We also appreciate the other Supervisors who voted against this resolution.

From the get-go, the impact on people receiving county social services never appeared to be a real concern of many on the Board. The original weighted criteria the Board assigned in evaluating the DSS move last summer was flawed from the beginning and was primarily focused on cost and convenience to the County and its employees and very little weight was given on the impact that this move would have on the users of these services. What we have witnessed over the last few months, when the Board supposedly looked objectively at all agencies and their appropriateness to move to Ockawamick, was a sham. Once the County bought the building, DSS's fate was sealed.

And now we have "déja vu all over again" when we see Chairman Baer's statement that "nothing has been decided and no concrete numbers are in from the developer" of the proposed Pine Haven move to Valatie. Let's not hope so-but then again, how do we really know?

Meg and Katy Cashen

20 April 2009

Plan 'B' -- The People's Plan

...In a Feb. 2 meeting at the Hudson Fire Station, citizens discussed 'Plan B,' an alternative to the Ockawamick idea.

Under Plan B a three-story, 38,000-square-foot building would be erected to house DSS on the northwestern corner of Fourth and Columbia streets. Across Fourth Street from that would be built a three-story parking garage with a 200-car capacity.

Behind the site of this new DSS building, across Long Alley, a new parking lot that would hold 60 vehicles is already being built.

Mayor Richard Scalera said the building would cost about $7.5 million and the garage would be $3.6 million, making a total of about $11 million, which he said is a $4 million savings compared to the $15 million Ockawamick is predicted to cost after renovation....
Supes vote on DSS move tonight
Department slated for Ockawamick
by John Mason
Mar. 11, 2009
(Click on images to enlarge)

In the news

Residents opposed to DSS move continue to push for 'Plan B'
by Jamie Larson
Apr. 15, 2009

HUDSON — Concerned Hudson citizens and officials came together Tuesday night to discuss their opposition to the Columbia County Board of Supervisors’ plan to move the Department of Social Services from Hudson to the old Ockawamick school in Claverack. Meeting at the First Presbyterian Church on Warren Street in Hudson, the group listened as Mayor Richard Scalera broke down the details of his “Plan B,” which would see the department remain in Hudson under the roof of a newly constructed 40,000-square-foot building on the corner of Columbia and Fourth streets with a three-story parking garage.

A detailed discussion of the DSS issue was lead by political activist and co-owner of Time and Space Limited Linda Mussmann and the mayor, and saw residents from Hudson, Claverack and elsewhere raising their voices and even singing in opposition to the move. The meeting was also attended by many Hudson politicians, as well of Supervisor Thomas Dias, R-Ancram, who voted in favor of the Ockawamick move, and said he was there with an open mind but feels it is probably too late to consider new options.

Scalera said these are frustrating times for Hudson and the citizens who want to keep DSS in the city. He says that instead of giving Hudson officials a seat at the table to discuss options to keep DSS in the county seat, he and others have been shut out. Scalera was put on a county sub-committee to evaluate options for the move early on in the process, but says when he was told that none of those options included keeping the office in Hudson, he left, not wanting to be a part of any body that wouldn’t entertain a Hudson location.

According to the mayor, Board of Supervisors Chairman Art Baer asked Scalera to “do his homework” on a Hudson plan that would work. While Scalera now has that plan he feels the county had its mind made up on the move and it didn’t matter what he said. “No way it’s my responsibility,” the mayor said, “The county should have done their diligence. We’re talking about fairness.”

Baer says, contrary to Scalera’s assertion, he has evaluated Plan B and it doesn’t hold water. He says the structure Scalera proposes is a “vanilla building,” just a shell, and its cost will increase once they start building and realize what additional supplies they need.

Scalera says this isn’t so. He says while the county got its supply and square-footage numbers for Ockawamick out of an architectural digest, he got his straight from contractors based on materials they use. He also said he thinks the supervisors are underestimating the cost of Ockawamick’s remediation, as it has a number of serious issues including asbestos and oil contamination in the well.

The Ockawamick plan is slated to cost the county $16.7 million, plus the cost of a bus to shuttle Hudson residents to the old school and a possible satellite office in Hudson. The specifics of the transportation plan and satellite have not been finalized.

The cost of plan B breaks down like this, according to Scalera: Developers estimate the DSS building will cost $175 per square-foot — that’s $7 million for the 40,000-square-foot building. The 200-lot garage will cost $3.4 million. The mayor estimates land acquisition to cost $600,000, bringing the total to $11 million. Scalera says this sounds like a lot of money, because it is, but it is less than the current plan. Also it is his belief that the shuttle bus plan will cost the county $6,046,000 over 35 years, taking inflation into account, and his plan would save all that extra money.

Scalera also took exception to a statement made by Baer last week to the Register-Star, when the chairman said if his constituents were in Hudson, and he were up for re-election this year, he would probably be saying the same things as the mayor. “Chairman,” Scalera said, “if you lived in Hudson you’d have a better understanding of what it means to struggle.”

Though tempers have flared numerous times around the issue, officials stressed they wanted to make Plan B as available to the supervisors as possible. After Tuesday night’s meeting the mayor said he was encouraged by Dias' presence at the meeting and hopes that others will follow. Dias said he never considered Plan B when he voted for the move because it “wasn’t on the menu,” saying had it been, he would have looked at the numbers. Scalera said that Dias, who has only been a supervisor a year and a half, didn’t see it because Plan B was deliberately omitted from consideration because the county had already purchased Ockawamick and needed to find something to do with it.

Those opposed to the plan say taking such a vital office — DSS — which services the most needy members of society, six miles out of the area with the most need is a mistake. Residents are concerned about the stress that shuttle buses would put on citizens who use the office almost every day. Around 60 percent of people who use the DSS office are from Hudson and Greenport. “[Baer] called [Ockawamick] the geographic heart of the county,” Scalera said, “it makes no sense when Hudson is the demographic heart of the county.”

Residents and officials then spoke for more than an hour about what they could realistically do to change supervisors’ minds about DSS. Many applauded Dias for his willingness to appear, even if his mind wasn’t changed and called for residents to pound on the doors of their supervisors to demand they at least listen to Plan B. They put a particular emphasis on reaching out to Claverack politicians, to secure opposition at both ends of the move. Claverack citizens in attendance all said that they don’t want the office there either and that they are going to fight to keep it out as hard as Hudson will fight to keep it in.

Attendees were also treated to a puppet show by TSL co-owner Claudia Bruce, which comically depicted the plight of Plan B as it was rejected by the Board of Supervisors. In the quick show, Baer was depicted as a blue chair and Supervisor Doug McGivney, D-Kinderhook, was portrayed as a rat.