Sullivan County Democrat
O n l i n e  E d i t i o n National Award-winning, Family-run Newspaper
  NEWS ARCHIVES Established 1891 Callicoon, New York  
home  |  archives

IDA falling under greater scrutiny from legislature

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — January 18, 2011 — Two meetings last week demonstrated a changing landscape to which the county’s Industrial Development Agency (IDA) is having to respond.
Legislature gets  more involved
At Thursday’s Executive Committee meeting of the County Legislature, Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis revealed he had met with Legislator Ron Hiatt to discuss more transparency on the part of the IDA.
Rouis said County Manager David Fanslau had drafted a resolution requiring the IDA (which is a county agency) to post more data about its activities on its website,
The IDA had already voluntarily started that process, which Executive Director Jennifer Brylinski said will be complete in another week or so.
But there’s been a push by some in the public to get the Legislature more involved in IDA affairs, and thus a question concerning legislators was what info the IDA should provide. Rouis felt it should be presented “in a user-friendly way and a way where there’s no strife.”
Legislator Alan Sorensen wanted to see information demonstrating which IDA programs are effective and which aren’t, along with the procedures undertaken when businesses receiving IDA tax benefits don’t meet the employment and growth goals.
Rock Hill resident Dave Colavito told those gathered that putting more information on the website wouldn’t be sufficient.
“It’s important at this juncture that we don’t confuse activity with progress,” he remarked. “... What we don’t want is ‘information’ – what we want is clarity.”
He urged legislators not to worry about what can and can’t be posted, as the state’s recently adopted Public Authorities Law gives the county much leeway.
Though often perceived as an IDA critic, Colavito acknowledged he’s always gotten a positive response from IDA officials to his information requests, and he pointed out that the IDA – while being a major owner of tax-exempted/abated properties in the county – ensures that its properties make payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) that grow every year.
“This is not a witch hunt,” he promised.
At Colavito’s insistence, Rouis agreed to get Fanslau’s draft resolution to legislators right away, with a vote scheduled for this Thursday at 10 a.m.
Hiatt also set a meeting between the IDA and interested parties for 11:30 a.m. this Wednesday at the Government Center.
He indicated IDA attorney Walter Garigliano would attend (Brylinski will be at a conference in Albany that day), but Summitville resident Eileen Haworth Weil pushed for at least one IDA Board member to be present – preferably Board Chairman and Legislator Elwin Wood.
Weil found support from Legislator Jodi Goodman.
“If we were talking about the Visitors Association,” Goodman pointed out, “would it be [just] their attorney coming to the meeting?”
Legislators David Sager and Kathy LaBuda agreed, as well.
Indications are Colavito, Weil and others may be invited to the Wednesday meeting, originally scheduled to be just between the IDA and the Legislature.
“We’re your ‘staff’,” explained Grahamsville resident Ken Walter, “and the only we we can be an effective staff is if we have access to the information.”
Jeffersonville farmer Cindy Gieger, who’s become a regular attendee of IDA Board meetings, agreed.
“We need to follow through,” she told legislators, “and we’re going to make you accountable.”
Meanwhile, at the IDA Board…
There was also unusually substantive public involvement at last Tuesday’s regular IDA Board meeting.
In particular, Narrowsburg resident Claudine Luchsinger wondered what the IDA’s position would be on tax-abated properties that sign potentially profitable gas drilling leases.
She used a camp in the Town of Tusten as an example, pointing out it had signed a gas lease in 2008 and had also entered into a 15-year tax abatement program with the IDA. (According to county documents, the gas lease was terminated by the drilling company three months after inking the lease.)
“What leases they have or don’t have is of no consequence to our program,” replied Garigliano.
While the 481-acre property is currently operated as a summer camp, Garigliano did say that the IDA’s agreement – which is part of an effort to gradually put the formerly non-profit camp back onto the tax rolls – could possibly be terminated if drilling replaced camping.
“If they physically change the use of the property,” he said, “then the abatement would no longer apply.”
But what if both uses are undertaken simultaneously, asked Luchsinger, who worried that mineral rights would be developed on a property not yet paying its full share of taxes.
Such dual usage might not conflict with the IDA’s arrangement, Garigliano indicated, but the business activities unassociated with the IDA’s original agreement would not get tax breaks.
“If somebody were to build [non-camping-related] facilities on that property, it would have to pay taxes” on those improvements, he explained.
But, he added, “there is no real estate tax implication to [just] signing a lease.”
So the discussion turned to scenarios where an IDA property becomes a drilling site while under tax abatements.
“It now becomes an industrial site ... and you should be taxed differently,” argued Hortonville resident Roy Tedoff, who was also in the audience. “Morally, what I’m saying is right. Legally, if it’s wrong, that’s another matter.”
Elsewhere during the meeting, Brylinski reported that she had met with Gieger and fellow Sullivan County Farm Network founder Sonja Hedlund and had begun a dialogue toward releasing more information about IDA activities.
“I think it was a good meeting,” she related.
And speaking of meetings, next Tuesday, an IDA subcommittee will gather privately at the IDA’s Ferndale office to begin strategizing ways to utilize the $100,000-a-year payments now coming from the builders of the Millennium Pipeline, a recently-reconstructed natural gas transmission line running through western and southern Sullivan County.

top of page  |  home  |  archives