Friday, December 10, 2010

The Plan to Put County Offices in a Big Box

At the beginning of Wednesday's meeting about the proposal to acquire the vacant Walmart store on Fairview Avenue and turn it into an "efficient operation center for county government," a list was distributed of the departments that would leave the county seat if the plan were to be implemented. They are as follows:

From 325 Columbia Street:
  • Environmental Health/Health Department
  • Mental Health
  • Health Care Consortium
  • Office for the Aging
From 401 State Street:
  • Planning/Tourism
  • Youth Bureau, including STOP-DWI
  • Central Services with storage facilities
  • DPW/Facilities
From 601 State Street:
  • Probation Department
  • Public Defender
  • County Historian
  • Backup 911 Center
  • Social Services--from 25 Railroad Avenue
  • Columbia Economic Development Corp.--from 4303 Route 9 (the Holcim building)
Only the county offices required by law to be situated in the county seat would remain in Hudson, and those would all be relocated to 325 Columbia Street. They include the Board of Supervisors' offices and boardroom; Human Resources, including Civil Service; Accounts Payable; Payroll Department; County Attorney's Office; Budget Officer; Board of Elections; District Attorney's office, which has already moved to 325 Columbia Street. The Department of Motor Vehicles and the County Clerk's office would remain at 560 Warren Street.

Ken Flood, in his capacity as the Chief Operating Officer of the Columbia County Capital Resource Corporation (one of Flood's several titles and roles), stated at the outset of the meeting that its purpose was to "listen to the public provide an opinion on this option," but, even though this time it was the CRC who was listening and not the Board of Supervisors, many at the meeting felt it was July 2008 and the "public hearing" on Ockawamick all over again. At that meeting, hundreds of people filled the auditorium at Montgomery C. Smith--then the middle school, now the intermediate school--to express the opinion that buying an abandoned school building in the "geographic center of the county" to create a county "campus" somewhere other than the county seat was a singularly bad idea. But in spite of overwhelming opposition to Ockawamick, the Board of Supervisors went ahead and spent $1.5 million to purchase the building, which remains unused. On Wednesday, Second Ward Supervisor Ed Cross expressed the feelings of many when he told Flood, "It seems like we already bought it [the old Walmart building], and now you're selling it to us."

It seemed few at the meeting liked the idea of spending "something less than $2.7 million" to buy an abandoned big box and another $14 million to refit it as an office building--the few being Ken Flood and the members of the CRC board who were present: Bruce Bohnsack, Sid Richter, Ted Guterman, Jim Mackerer, and possibly others not noticed by Gossips. In the many questions and comments voiced during the hour-and-a-half-long meeting, there were some recurrent themes.
  • The proposal, which involves 125,000 square feet of building and 14.5 acres of land, doesn't include a plan for sheltering the homeless. Since county's current practice of housing the homeless in motels costs an inordinate amount of money and so far the implementation of the recommended "congregate housing" model doesn't promise to be much better in terms of expense to taxpayers, it seems essential that any proposal that purports, among other things, to save taxpayer money should address the homeless housing problem. 
  • Moving 300 county employees, who buy lunch and shop in Hudson, out of the city will have a negative impact on Hudson businesses.  Mayor Richard Scalera demanded to know during meeting, "Whose interest is it to move 300 county employees out of the City of Hudson?" No answer was forthcoming.
  • The proposal creates access problems for a substantial number of people who require services. Michael Cole, director of the Mental Health Department, reported that 20 to 30 percent of his department's clients walk to the clinic. Mayor's aide Carmine Pierro said that 46 percent of clients of the Health Department and 55 percent of the clients of the Department of Social Services live in Hudson.   
  • Moving government offices out of the city into a box store situated among box stores is detrimental to the community at large. Matthew Frederick, an architect and urban designer who recently moved to Hudson, warned that "the location of county buildings in sprawl becomes an endorsement of sprawl."
  • The removal of county offices from Hudson constitutes the systematic dismantling of the county seat. 
  • By emphasizing efficiency and cost reduction, the proposal is apathetic toward the consumers of the services and strips them of their dignity.
Toward the end of the meeting, Scalera expressed his frustration with a process that has gone on for more than two years. He reminded Flood that the Board of Supervisors had created an ad hoc subcommittee--the Space Utilization Subcommittee, chaired by Fifth Ward Supervisor Bart Delaney--and had tasked that group with finding the best place for the Department of Social Services. After study and consideration, that subcommittee made the decision to keep DSS in Hudson and narrowed the sites for a new DSS building down to two: the southwest corner of Fourth and State streets (a vacant lot owned by the City of Hudson) and the northwest corner of Fourth and Columbia streets (a vacant lot owned by Eric Galloway). Scalera wanted to know why, when the decision of the Space Utilization Subcommittee was supposed to be binding, the CRC was now proposing another "option."

Ted Guterman, attorney for the CRC and the IDA, expressed his opinion that the acquisition of the old Walmart building "could possibly be a golden opportunity for the county--to get it out of the 19th century and into the 21st century."

A special meeting of the CRC, at which they may make the first (nonbinding) decision of a series of decisions about this acquisition, has been scheduled for Friday, December 17, at 8 a.m., at the Columbia Economic Development Corporation office, 4303 Route 9 (the Holcim building).      

Francesa Olsen's coverage of the meeting appears in today's Register-Star: "Walmart proposal gets a chilly response."        


  1. No money to develop the waterfront, but there is 17 million for this? You know in the end it will cost way more than they say. What a weird town.

  2. Slowart--You have to tell the players apart here. This plan is not originating with the City. The plan and the money are coming from the county. All the Hudson players, who rarely agree on anything, are united in their opposition to moving county offices to a big box in Greenport. On the other hand, none of the people who conceived of the plan or support it lives in Hudson.

    Instead of respecting Hudson as the county seat and valuing it as the little urban jewel in the crown of an otherwise rural county, most of the people on the Board of Supervisors--and probably the county IDA and CRC as well--have nothing but disdain for our beloved city.

    And . . . I don't think you want these guys messing with our waterfront. Rumor has it the Ken Flood would like to bring something like a Mariott or a Ramada Inn here.

  3. Thanks for the info on that. That would be a disaster, Ramada Inn on the waterfront. Makes clouds of gravel dust seem almost appealing by comparison.