Philanthropist George Whipple III, who in 2009 won a 40-year lease from Putnam County for its Tilly Foster Farm, on Monday announced he would no longer provide financial support for the county facility along Route 312 in Southeast.
His withdrawal raises questions about whether taxpayers will be called upon to support the county-owned farm, which was purchased with New York City watershed preservation monies.
The announcement came at Monday’s meeting of the county Legislature’s Audit Committee, which has asked Whipple to attend and produce financial reports required under the county lease with his non-profit organization, The Society for the Preservation of Putnam County Antiquities and Greenways Inc., known as Preserve Putnam.
Legislator Dini LoBue, R-Mahopac, for the past several weeks, has been demanding that Whipple produce the required reports.
Just last week, Whipple wrote the Legislature, saying that both he and his sister, Meredith, the farm’s executive director, would appear to answer questions.
But instead of showing up, Robert Lusardi, an attorney who has represented Whipple in the past but was appearing Monday as a volunteer, provided a letter from Meredith Whipple, announcing her brother’s withdrawal of financial support.
“After 15 years of serving the people of Putnam County, as a Philanthropist, George Whipple III has decided to retire from further philanthropic activities in Putnam County,” Meredith Whipple wrote. “Over the past five years, George Whipple has donated funds and property toward meeting shortfalls in the fundraising activities for the Tilly Foster Farm. Accordingly, due to his decision to withdraw from further financial support of the Tilly Foster Farm, the County will need to reconsider the existing method of funding the operation of the farm. Preserve Putnam will cooperate in exploring, with the Legislature, alternative funding sources, and proposals for operating the Farm going forward.”
Ed Cook, a member of the Preserve Putnam board, said county Sheriff Don Smith continues to chair its board. He said Whipple was also on the board. Smith said other board members include former Putnam County Executive Bob Bondi; Danielle Cylich; rabbit breeder Colleen Rapp; Jeanette Barringer of the American Livestock Breeding Conservatory; Dutchess County farmer Steve Ewing; and Ed Cooke, of the local carpenters’ union.
Cook also declined to answer questions from the Legislature. He asked that any questions be put in writing. He hoped the board would work with the Legislature on a new plan for the farm. But without Whipple’s deep pockets, it was uncertain where the funding would come from to support the operation.
Cook said his volunteerism only went so far.
“I don’t want to be spending my weekends mucking out stalls or cutting hay,” he said.
Yet to be disclosed are the lease agreements Whipple’s organization has struck with other entities that have installations at the farm, including Avalon Archives, a museum of a rock ‘n roll memorabilia, and an antique farm equipment exhibitor.
The site also includes residences, a lodge for parties, such as Saturday night’s Sweet Sixteen affair for a Mahopac teen. There are also barns with stables where a horse boarding operation once had many horses housed. The barns also shelter Whipple’s heritage animals, which include special breeds of cows and sheep.
Southeast community activist Ann Fanizzi, who had donated $200,000 to launch the farm operation, had sued Whipple for failing to live to certain agreement he’d made with her. But Fanizzi’s case was dismissed last year in state Supreme Court.
She said Whipple had threatened to pull out of Tilly Foster in December, 2010, but continued to be involved.
“It grieves me that we have reached his point,” said Fanizzi.