Speaking of the village government, some trustees were none too happy to learn the Diamond Mills Hotel and Convention Center (you know, the Partition Street Project) will likely receive tax breaks in the form of a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes). The agreement would likely take the form of a standard 10-year PILOT, which includes a 100 percent exemption from taxes on any new value for the property during the first three years (taxes on the current property value would continue to be levied), a 75 percent exemption for the next two years, and a 50 percent exemption for the last five years. The project will also be exempt from mortgage and sales taxes during the construction phase.
Ulster County Industrial Development Agency CEO Lance Matteson points out that the agency is vested with the power to make these kinds of standard agreements with developers who meet application guidelines, and the scope of the tax breaks for standard agreements was determined previously by representatives from the various affected parties in the county, including villages, towns and school districts. Some communities have less generous standard agreements. Some have more. All are intended to provide incentives for developers to locate in a given community. Matteson also pointed out that if the developer seeks to modify the terms in any way, all the affected parties would have to sign off on it.
While this is all true, that doesn’t mean village trustees and others interested in the development remembered or ever knew about it. One trustee, Suzanne LeBlanc, recalls being asked by residents if the project would be receiving tax breaks. She said no.
Residents were right to ask this question, especially when the need to “grow the tax base” is so often cited by local officials who supported the development. We’re not saying the existence of standard tax breaks was hidden from village officials, or that the knowledge of their likelihood would have or should have influenced the planners who oversaw the development process. But they do play a role in public opinion, and thus tax breaks should be part of the discussion from day one, not assumed to be common knowledge.
This election has had more anger than any in recent memory, and it’s not restrained to the electorate. A recent editorial board meeting with assembly candidates Peter Rooney and Kevin Cahill provided occasion for one of the most heated exchanges this office has seen since the infamous serial comma debate of ’07. Aside from the positions of each, which are of no great interest to Saugerties readers since we are in the 127th not the 101st district, what was most fascinating was the approach of Rooney, the Republican. Whether by design or lack of preparation, he offered little in the way of concrete proposals for his promises of tax breaks and spending cuts. Instead, he was the prototypical conservative Upstate businessman candidate: praising the lower taxes of the southern states and inveighing against career politicians, complete with a promise to serve only six years. As Cahill ticked off a host of initiatives spearheaded and incremental positive changes made, Rooney’s reply could be summed up as: “Look around. Things are bad, and this guy is in office, so whatever he says he’s doing it hasn’t been effective.”
We don’t know if it’s taken root in the 101st, but this approach is being used by scores of non-incumbent candidates nationwide, and it’s been very successful. Unfortunately, not being in office doesn’t make a candidate any better equipped to deal with the problems our state and nation face. Voters should be demanding specifics from candidates and making decisions based on which policies they agree with. The same “independent” voters who threw out the Republican “bums” in 2006 and 2008 are now poised to throw out bums from the other side of the aisle. As long as the economy is in the tank, will the independents, lacking any core allegiance to one school of thought on taxes and the role of government, mercurially swing elections back and forth, expressing their displeasure with the current state of affairs by giving the incumbents the old heave ho every election cycle?
It would be better if those who found themselves switching back and forth out of nothing more than disgust at incumbents look at some of the bedrock differences between the half-dozen main parties, and consistently vote for the one they most agree with; to think of the candidates on the ballot as human avatars for a series of votes, not as perfect representations of what a voter thinks should be done. Change happens slowly in a democracy. Only dictators get their way every time.