County set to buy DSS offices

HUDSON — The Columbia County Board of Supervisors voted last week to purchase the building and property at 25 Railroad Avenue pending the results of an environmental assessment paid for by the building’s current owner, Anthony Concra.

The county currently leases the building for the Department of Social Services, but for the last several years county officials have said that the department desperately needs more space and must to move to new quarters. Finding a satisfactory alternative, however, has proved difficult. Buying the property was always an option, although some thought that when the lease ran out this year, the county would need an alternative site as soon as possible.

Concern over the end of the lease agreement and the department’s call for more space spurred the county’s proposal last December to purchase and renovate the vacant box store off Fairview Avenue owned by Walmart. At a Chamber of Commerce breakfast in April Board of Supervisors Chairman Roy Brown (R-Germantown) announced that he planned to go ahead with the purchase of the Walmart project, saying, “The time for action is now.”

The board has delayed action on that purchase and last week Mr. Brown and a few others voted against the resolution to purchase 25 Railroad Avenue. Mr. Brown could not be reached this week for comment.

“The rent at 25 Railroad was so high that the idea of staying and continuing to rent seemed unwise,” said Robin Andrews (D-Claverack), a member of the Finance Committee. “For the cost of what we would pay in two to three years to rent, we could own the building,” she said.

Ms. Andrews said of purchasing the building, “It will buy us time. It does not solve our long-term problem. We need to continue to look for a solution. It was one of the hardest decisions we’ve all made. It is a big deal.”

The building has been appraised at $1.3 million.

The county was not the only party interested in 25 Railroad Avenue, a site off North 7th Street near the main firehouse. The City of Hudson had said it might be the right location for a police station and court. But Don Moore, president of the Common Council, said that because the city wants DSS to remain where it is, Hudson would step aside. “The city is better served by having DSS remain here. It does face us with a challenge now of how to find new quarters for the city court and police. We’ll have to return to the drawing board on that,” he said.

Mayor Rick Scalera called the county’s decision “good news.”

Hudson Supervisor William Hughes Jr. (D-4th Ward) said that the state’s 2% cap on local and county tax increases forced the county to take action. “That has changed and will continue to change how we do business.

The current DSS office building is 28,000 square feet, but the department anticipates it will need 40,000 square feet. Concerns that the building might not meet environmental standards added pressure to the search, he said.

Mr. Hughes said that DSS may need less space if the state takes over the Medicaid Division and 20 employees move out. “If and when that happens, they may have adequate space to create a comfortable environment for that staff that we can afford in these times,” he said.

An August earthquake that produced tremors felt in Hudson led Commissioner of Public Works Dave Robinson to do examine the structure. Mr. Hughes said of Commissioner Robinson’s report, “It scared me. It made me wonder should we evacuate DSS or are there flaws in the report? A lot of supervisors asked for Phase 2 to get real answers before we panic people.”

It is the Phase 2 study of the building that Mr. Concra will pay for as part of the purchase resolution adopted last week.

Pollution found by Mr. Robinson was subsequently traced to evaporating ink from documents stored in the basement of 25 Railroad.

Despite the step the board took last week on the Railroad Avenue building, the county has not given up on the Walmart building. Before officials learned that the source of the pollution came from the stored documents, supervisors passed a resolution to purchase more time the county’s option to buy the Walmart property, which is expected to cost the county a total of $16 million.

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