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?