We’re speaking here of Ulster County IDA board member Steve Perfit, this week’s man-in-the-barrel in the seemingly never-ending saga of the Park Point/SUNY New Paltz student housing project. Perfit, a commercial real-estate broker, is being accused of conflict of interest in voting in favor of a half-million-dollar Pilot (payment in lieu of taxes) deal last week on the controversial project. The other members of the IDA voted the same way.
Some in New Paltz noted that Perfit’s Newburgh-based commercial real-estate business is owned by the mall giant Pyramid (former owners of the Hudson Valley Mall), which they say is connected to the Rochester-based Wilmorite Corp., developer of the $60 million Park Point project.
Perfit, a Woodstocker and not one to mince words, called the allegations “pure muckraking.” He said his real-estate firm was purchased by Pyramid four years ago, two years prior to Wilmorite’s initial application to the IDA, and that he had no management or decision-making responsibilities with the parent company.
Perfit said he has no idea about the Wilmorite-Pyramid relationship and moreover doesn’t care. “There is no conflict of interest in my mind,” he said. “If there were, I would have recused myself.” His definition of conflict in such cases, he told a local paper, would mean “money in my pocket.”
The issue of potential conflict, Perfit said, came up shortly after Wilmorite’s application was presented almost two years ago. The IDA board and its attorney concluded there was none. Note: Next time, vet those issues with the county ethics board.
“If anything, they should be embracing me,” he said, referring to the hundreds of people in New Paltz who oppose the project because they feel it should be paying its full share of taxes. On that count, Perfit should not hold his breath waiting for a hug.
Perfit said it was he who “independently” researched the original Park Point application and convinced fellow IDA members that taxes should be calculated on “the number of beds, not the number of doors.” In effect, the Perfit formula “quadrupled the amount of taxes the developer will pay” (from the paltry $103,000 the first year originally offered to the $522,000 adopted by the IDA and accepted by developers last week).
Conclusions: If Perfit or anybody else on the IDA board was working in collusion with the developers, they had a curious way of showing it. The Pilot approved by the IDA obligates Wilmorite to pay five times more than it had previously offered, though about half what the town government believes the developer should pay.
Meanwhile, the town planning board in New Paltz has said it will not approve Park Point’s environmental impact statement or its site plan unless it agrees to pay full taxes. Legal action is likely to follow.
Perfit raised the hackles of Paltzians with his pointed — some said angry — advocacy of SUNY New Paltz at last week’s IDA meeting.
Calling the college “the heartbeat of economic development in Ulster County,” Perfit said, “If SUNY New Paltz was not in New Paltz, there would be no New Paltz in terms of commercial activity.”
Sounding faintly Nixonian, he spoke of “the silent majority” (rarely heard during the 14 months of debate over this project), which he said “deplored substandard off-campus housing that is basically obsolete.” An affordable “world-class institution like SUNY New Paltz deserves world-class student housing,” he proclaimed to glares and grumbles from an audience mostly composed of people from New Paltz.
Inherent in Perfit’s ode to SUNY New Paltz was a question. What other town in the area would turn down a multi-million-dollar expansion of its largest employer? Not many, I would hazard.
One of the more intriguing rumors going around after the IDA approved the Park Point Pilot was that “neutral” County Executive Mike Hein had secretly prevailed upon the board to grant the Pilot it adopted last week. “We heard absolutely nothing from the executive or the county,” said IDA Chairman Mike Horodyski. “It would have been a lot easier if the county had supported us.”
Hein, incidentally, is a graduate of New Paltz High School, where he was a star athlete. The school district stands to receive over $300,000 in tax revenue the first year of the Park Point Pilot.
On the Marc
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, borrowing a line from his Ulster counterpart, last week declared his intention of making Dutchess “the healthiest county in New York.”
That should be the goal of all 62 counties in New York, but as far as I know only Hein has staked it out.
Molinaro expressed surprise that someone else had already stolen his thunder.
“Mike Hein said that?” he said. “I didn’t know that was Mike Hein’s slogan.” Unbeknownst to Molinaro, Hein has been beating that drum for at least the last four years.
Adding to the hilarity was that shortly before Molinaro launched his own “healthiest county” campaign, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a think tank that studies these things, dropped Dutchess from ninth in the state to 11th. Ulster, by contrast, wa rose from 31st to 29th, still miles from Hein’s goal and well behind Dutchess.
“I think they changed the methodology on us,” Molinaro said, obliquely casting doubt on Ulster’s improvement in the survey. “We’ll be back,” he vowed.
On another Dutchess note, elected leaders are scrambling to duck responsibility for one of the most unpopular taxes since patriots dumped tea in Boston Harbor. Last December, citing a need to close a $5 million gap in its 2014 budget, Molinaro and the Dutchess legislature instituted a 3.75 percent sales tax on energy. Three months later, the state government, flush with cash, approved a $5 million one-shot appropriation to cover the gap. Dutchess officials swiftly moved to rescind the hated energy tax, imposed in addition to the outrageous spikes in energy costs we all endured last winter, while taking full credit for saving the day.
Alas, the special tax, after taking effect on March 1, does not sunset until June 1. It will cost Dutchess residents about $1.3 million in higher energy bills, according to Molinaro’s office.