MAHOPAC, N.Y. Mahopac News sat down last week with Supervisor Ken Schmitt for a phone interview to discuss how town business is proceeding with the coronavirus shutdown in effect.
Topics ranged from how Town Board meetings are now being conducted to how the pandemic could impact the town budget to the supervisor’s personal health as he recuperates from open-heart surgery.
MAHOPAC NEWS: What’s it like at town hall these days? Are you able to conduct business as usual? How does that work?
KEN SCHMITT: We never closed. We’ve been opened since this started. Residents have been able to come here, and the [security guard] will ask them who they want to see. They will be directed to a designated room and [the security guard] will call the requested department and tell them there is someone here to see them. They will come out with a mask and gloves and meet them, standing 6 feet away. That holds true for every department. There are skeleton crews, but each department is staffed. I said at the beginning that government shouldn’t stop. It is important to the residents and business owners to be here for whatever they need.
MN: What about the Town Board meetings? Those are being done virtually, right?
KS: Yes, our Town Board meetings are virtual. We all meet from our homes. We are offsite and use the Zoom platform. The board members come by and get the agenda and packets at the Town Hall. I don’t even see them; they pick it up at the security desk.
The meetings are Zoomed live on channel 24 for Verizon and channel 95 for Comcast. You can watch them in real time in the “Brady Bunch” format. [Laughs.] You can see all of us. The town managers present items virtually and residents can ask questions before the meeting by going to the town website, where there is link, which says, “Do you have any question for this meeting?” They can email me questions before 6 p.m. I will bring the question up at the meeting and read it out loud.
All the other board meetings (Planning, Zoning, etc.) are currently on pause.
MN: The school district is in the throes of preparing its budget and they are struggling. State aid is questionable for them. You don’t have to cope with your budget until the fall, but are you concerned about how it will look?
KS: I had our comptroller examine our expenditures and revenue and actually both are down. Expenditures are down because everything is closed, so spending is down. But we will get a better look with how we fared in the pandemic at the end of second quarter, which is coming up. We budgeted $950,000 for [expected revenue from] mortgage taxes. In recent years, we have been exceeding that. The housing market was strong in Putnam County. But we know it will have an impact on the budget now, that’s guaranteed, but homes are still selling.
MN: Let’s talk about some projects that the town was about to embrace in 2020. The revamping of the town codes and a new master plan were on the agenda. Bring us up to date on the status of that.
KS: We had a virtual meeting with our consultant, and it is going forward. It went very well, and we shared a lot of good ideas. We did a survey and we went over the results with our comprehensive plan committee and it was very informative. I am looking forward to continuing the process and we will share the results of that survey and discuss where we need to get to. These plans take months to develop. There are lots of moving parts and it’s very fluid right now. I was very encouraged by the results. We will get to the point where we need to go out to the public. We need feedback. What do you want Carmel to look like in five years, 10 years, 20 years from now?
MN: A lot of building projects were on the table when the pandemic hit and were put on pause. Can you update us on the status of a few of them? Let’s start with Swan Cove.
KS: We just put out RFPs (requests for proposals) to architectural and engineering firms for the concept—what should it look like? Come up with a motif for sidewalks, lighting, crosswalks. This is the concept phase. Then we can award that work to a firm. That will be a snapshot of it all. We gave them the parameters and the scope, and they will turn it into a plan. Then it goes from concept to design and then out to bid for construction. The DOT traffic light project [at the Route 6 and 6N intersection] with new curbs and new drainage and catch basins is still moving along and on target.
MN: What about the new distillery at the old Guidepost property?
KS: They’ve submitted drawings to the building department and Mike Carnazza has reviewed them. What is encouraging is they are moving forward with engineering and design.
The other boards, like Planning and Zoning, are getting ready to start back up and will be meeting again soon.
MN: What about other building projects, like the Taco Bell in Carmel and the new Vietnamese restaurant on Route 6 in Mahopac? They had to shut down right in the middle of construction.
KS: All those projects were stopped by the governor. When he begins to allow us to open back up is when they will start back up. Right now, no construction activity is permitted unless it is essential like water, sewer and infrastructure. Eventually, it will all be phased in but our region has to meet certain metrics and we are not there yet.
MN: Personal home-renovation projects are currently on hold as well. What would you tell folks who had to cease with their projects half-finished? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
KS: The governor’s executive order says one person can be working, but a lot of these renovations require more than one worker. If you exceed it, the local code enforcement officer can come out and issue a stop-work order. But I tell them to hang tight. At some point in the near future the pause will be lifted.
MN: There is a lot of debate over when communities should reopen and how they should do it. How would you like to see Carmel and Putnam County handle it?
KS: I would love to see Carmel open yesterday but our hands are tied. We need to get our business community back open. So many are hurting and struggling to keep the lights on. I am doing whatever I can. Our legislators, Peter Harckham and Kevin Byrne are doing everything they can. We have to do it sooner or later. It’s the small mom-and-pop shops that are suffering. Villa Barone has all its events canceled for 2020. They employed a lot of people, and they aren’t working now. They have a lot of overhead that has to be paid. They can’t submit a claim for business loss.
The town of Carmel is here for our local businesses. Whatever they need to get going, like for outdoor dining, we will cut a little of that red tape. I will ensure that I’m involved in that process. We are going to have to change and adapt.
MN: How about you personally? You are recovering from a heart attack and open-heart surgery. Are you worried about your own safety? Do you take extra precautions?
KS: I am taking extra precautions. I am feeling great and have been back to work since mid-March, full-time every day and sometimes on weekends. People say I need to be careful. I am being careful. I wear a mask and gloves, but I have to function. I have a town to run.
I think since it all began my job has been more demanding. We are all doing more with less. It has increased the volume of work tenfold. We get a lot of calls and we respond to every one of them. I think about our community and want to make sure we are doing everything we can. I am on conference calls with the Department of Health and all the [other] town supervisors. I look to see if there is something other towns are doing that we can learn from. I watch the governor’s press conference every day to see what we need to be doing. I am also on the phone with the governor’s office getting clarifications on the governor’s orders. There has been a lot going on.
It’s very different from my first 12 1/2 years. I’ve been through hurricanes and tornadoes and power outages, but this is unprecedented.
To our Beloved Community: During this crisis, we can’t continue to operate entirely as we have been doing when we are only earning a fraction of our previous advertising revenue and still have to pay 100 percent of our payroll. Without that payroll, we would be unable to serve the community with the news and important information you have come to expect. If you feel that we’ve made a positive difference in your town, we ask that you send us a contribution to keep your community newspaper alive and strong by pressing on our PayPal button HERE