Milton Park funding questioned
Significant issues concerning the funding of the Waterfront Park in Milton surfaced in mid-May, temporarily slowing forward motion until they can be resolved.
The original price tag for the park parcel – which includes both the riverfront portion and a section off of Sands Avenue – was $940,000, which the town purchased using a combination of funds, $500,000 from the environmental organization Scenic Hudson and $500,000 from NYS Parks and Recreation. The deal was brokered by the Trust for Public Lands, a national, non-profit land conservation organization, founded in 1972.
Supervisor Stephen Osborn said he believed the remaining $60,000 was to be divided equally between these two entities. He said the $30,000 from NYS Parks was earmarked for infrastructure improvements, such as a railroad crossing. But Osborn also discovered that $8,000 to cover the closing costs and nearly $7,000 of interest while waiting for reimbursement was inexplicably paid for out of the town’s budget.
Osborn said Scenic Hudson’s $30,000 share was to be used to pay for a park master plan. The Town Board and many citizens offered input and prepared materials for the plan. Osborn said the firm of Quennell Rothschild “who is a pretty prestigious firm in these designs and who did a wonderful presentation and wonderful plans for us and the only thing was hiring them officially to do the park master plan based on the $30,000 that was left over from Scenic Hudson.” Osborn said that to date the firm has not been paid anything, but he found their presentation so detailed that he believes when they are hired the development of actual plans may not take much time to complete.
Osborn said because these issues coalesced during the last election cycle, he urged the firm be officially hired post-election to avoid any political controversy. Osborn recently checked the status of the funds available with the town’s bookkeeper and was surprised to lean that only $11,000 remained in both accounts.
Upon review of the original contract of sale with NYS Parks, Osborn discovered a clause, stating that only $450,000 would be reimbursed to the town towards the purchase price and the remaining $50,000 would be released only after a list of conditions were met by the town. Upon further scrutiny, Osborn discovered that the remaining $50,000 is a 2-to-1 matching fund, which means the town has to approve the expenditure of $100,000 just to be reimbursed the final $50,000 from NYS Parks. In essence the town’s share is $50,000.
Osborn said he takes responsibility for not knowing the details on this critical point but said the issue “never came up” before.
Compounding the matter, Osborn said, is the fact that Scenic Hudson’s $30,000 earmarked for a park plan was instead spent for the purchase of the property to make up for the shortfall from NYS Parks.
Osborn said because of these matters the town may take advantage of Scenic Hudson’s previous offer for free design help.
“I don’t know if they saw this day coming, but they’re about to,” he said. “I think they will be OK with it [and] I think everything’s going to be fine. The only thing that isn’t fine is the recovery of the $50,000, which is requiring us to spend $100,000.”
Osborn added that he thinks Scenic Hudson will not hold the town legally accountable for the use of the $30,000 towards the parcel sale, especially in light of their release of the money prior to the town having even chosen a park plan. He said he believes Scenic Hudson did this in order to close their books for the year and made no stipulation to the town on exactly how it should be spent. He said the town, however, has always conveyed to them that the money would eventually be used for a park plan.
“They want this park to succeed. They want the town to succeed. They’re not going to go back and look at money they already released to you years ago,” he said. “I think we’re going to move forward and reopen our relationship with Scenic Hudson.”
Osborn said he looks forward to solving these issues.
“I find it enjoyable to find creative solutions to problems that both [sides] feel comfortable with the solution,” he said. “Even though its too bad it happened this way, I think knowing Scenic Hudson and knowing our board, we’re going to be able to find a good creative solution out of it…I believe it will [not] be anything other than a win-win situation for the town.”
By MARK REYNOLDS