County , city see way to keep DSS offices in Hudson
HUDSON–The county and city have reached an agreement to relocate the Department of Social services inside the city limits.
The new proposal, announced at a press conference Tuesday afternoon, July 21, in the chambers of the county Board of Supervisors at 401 State Street, would scrap the controversial relocation of the department to the old Ockawamick School building in Claverack, and move the department into two buildings in the city already owned by the county: 610 State Street and the building where Tuesday’s announcement was made, the headquarters of the board at 401 State.
The key to the plan involves the county purchasing a building it formerly ruled out using: One City Centre, also called the Hudson City Centre, at the corner of State and Green streets. That building, one of the newer office structures in the city, is owned by First Niagara Bank and houses the offices of several businesses, including Taconic Farms.
The first floor of the City Centre would house the board’s chambers and offices, and the third floor would become the home of other county offices now at 401 State Street. The second floor would remain as leased space for private tenants, and their lease payments would be used to compensate the city for lost revenue when the building is removed from the tax rolls.
The two buildings that the Department of Social Services (DSS) would occupy on State Street are both old brick schools that already have office space but will need renovations that make them compliant with the access provisions of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The new plan envisions paying for that work by scaling back renovations previously scheduled for the Ockawamick School building. The county also expects to save money it planned to spend transporting DSS clients between Hudson and the Ockawamick School, which lies six miles outside the city.
After months of protest, debate and technical questions about the DSS move, the mood Tuesday was decidedly upbeat and bipartisan. Board of Supervisors Chairman Arthur Baer (R-Hillsdale) called the deal a “win-win” situation.
Mayor Rick Scalera (D), who vigorously opposed the decision to move the DSS headquarters, said he was pleased at what he described as a commitment by the county to keep the DSS in Hudson.
But both men added notes of caution because, as Mr. Baer said, “This is not a done deal.” He said there are other bidders interested in purchasing the City Centre and added that “many pieces have to fall into place… to make this work.”
One of the pieces that has fallen into place is what Mr. Baer called the “freefall” of the commercial real estate market. When a committee appointed by the chairman first began exploring options for a new home for the social services department, it rejected the City Centre because it would remove the building from the tax rolls and First Niagara wanted too high a price. But the recession has caused the value of the building to drop and the bank is now willing to sell at a price Mr. Baer, Mr. Scalera and others said suddenly made it an option. Although they declined to say how much the bank is asking, both men agreed that it was not considered feasible for the county to purchase the office building until the last month.
The mayor and the chairman have been at odds since the plan to move the DSS was unveiled last year. The mayor has frequently complained that Mr. Baer and the leadership of the Board of Supervisors have left him and other city officials out of their decision-making process. But in recent weeks the two sides have been talking, as pressure mounted on Mr. Baer from his own party to reconsider the planned move to the Ockawamick School building, which the county purchased last year.
One indication of that cooperation was seen in the offer by the city to make a vacant city-owned lot near 401 State Street available for parking when the DSS moves. Mr. Baer also said the city and county are discussing the fate of the empty building that used to house Schroeder Chevrolet on Green Street, which is adjacent to the City Centre. The city owns that building.
Consideration of proposals for reshuffling the addresses of various county agencies began in earnest in the last year and a half because the lease that the DSS has for its office building on Railroad Avenue expires in 2011. The DSS staff is already functioning in cramped space without adequate storage area for records and facing the likelihood that its staff will expand in the near future as need grows. Meanwhile, experts agree that expanding the current building is not practical.
County Commissioner of Social Services Paul Mossman, who was present for the announcement Tuesday, said he supports the new proposal, although he acknowledged that many renovations and upgrades will be needed. The Railroad Avenue building has 28,000 square feet of office space, while the two county buildings that the DSS would occupy have a combined total of 36,000 square feet, most of it in the 24,000-square-foot County Office Building at 401 State Street. Mr. Mossman said the modifications needed to make the old county buildings fit the needs of his departments would present the county with a challenge, but he said, “I’m optimistic.”
The upbeat mood was apparent in comments offered by a number of people present at the press conference. Artist and community organizer Linda Mussmann, who led frequent protests and public meetings critical of the plan to move DSS, said the new plan offered “a very nice opportunity” to work with the county rather than against the Board of Supervisors. And Fourth Ward Supervisor William Hughes (D) praised Mr. Baer and other members of the board who had taken advantage of the circumstances to come up with a new plan for DSS. Looking ahead to other city projects like the revitalization of the city’s waterfront, Mr. Hughes said, “I think we’re going to have a better working relationship with the county… This proves we can work together.”
To contact Parry Teasdale email pteasdale@ColumbiaPaper.com