copied with permission
Saturday, August 31, 2002

Infirmary plan eludes committee
Legislator calls for Dutchess service center 

By Anthony Farmer
Poughkeepsie Journal

After months of debate, a citizens committee formed to look into what to do with the former Dutchess County infirmary has not reached a consensus. The county legislator who led the committee is recommending the same thing the county executive did last year.

And controversy is still raging.

So it goes for the mostly undeveloped 100-acre parcel in the Town of
Washington, and the buildings on it. Earlier this year, county legislators formed a subcommittee that held several public hearings and got varied reactions from different segments of the community in the Millbrook area.

The subcommittee formed a citizens committee to come to a consensus on what should be done. A majority recently decided the best option would be an affordable housing complex for senior citizens.

But Hamilton Meserve, R-Amenia, who led the committee, told his fellow
Republicans this week he's introducing a proposal that would create a county services center for residents of eastern Dutchess. Meserve issued the committee's final report this week, which says a consensus could not be reached.

Suggestion made before

A report from County Executive William Steinhaus nearly a year ago suggested creating a county services center there. Steinhaus assistant Nancy Giordano said Thursday the legislative leadership has ''mishandled'' the issue.

''A year later, we have Mr. Meserve's final report which is confusing, contradictory and certainly inconclusive,'' said Giordano, who only learned of the proposal after a reporter supplied a copy of the report. ''Based on what we know, the Legislature is no closer to resolving the issue on the center than they were a year ago.''

But Meserve's proposal is on the Legislature's September agenda. It will be considered by the Public Works and Transportation Committee next week.

Meserve said the Legislature should honor the spirit of ''home rule'' and heed the wishes of the Washington town board, which voted in April to support the plan for a county services center.

''We really don't have consensus,'' Meserve said.

One of the citizens on that committee, David Brinkerhoff, said he and other residents who live near the infirmary property are consulting with an attorney because a county services center might result in increased traffic and pose a threat to the environment. The concerns of people who live near the property haven't been addressed, he said.

''Let's get all the facts and go from there,'' said Brinkerhoff, president of the Millbrook/Town of Washington Business Association.

Other possibilities opposed

Legislator Margaret Fettes, D-Union Vale, said all the other possibilities considered by the citizens committee for the site -- swapping space with the nearby Farm and Home Center on Route 44, marketing it for economic development or using it for affordable housing -- should never have been considered.

''The community wants to see it kept in county hands,'' Fettes said.

Sean Donahue, R-LaGrange, said lawmakers have never honored home rule in
the past when making decisions with county-wide implications.

Giordano also questioned that reasoning, but for a different reason.

''That doesn't really jibe,'' Giordano said, pointing out the town board's action in April and Meserve's decision in May to create the citizens committee. ''If home rule was going to rule, it could have ruled as easily in April as it could have now.''

WHAT'S NEXT

INFIRMARY BUILDING

The Dutchess County Legislature's Public Works and Transportation
Committee will consider a proposal on the future of the former county infirmary at a meeting Thursday. Legislative committees begin meeting at 3 p.m. on the sixth floor of the County Office Building, 22 Market St., Poughkeepsie.