Labor and community organizations held a rally on a closed-off North Front Street in New Paltz last Wednesday, August 20. The approximately 35 protesters held signs announcing “Strong Communities Work” and “Living Wage Jobs Not Tax Cuts for the Rich.”
The Civil Service Employees’ Association (CSEA) and the New Paltz Town and Planning Boards organized the rally as part of the town’s lawsuit against the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) and Wilmorite, a private development company, over its proposed Park Point student and faculty housing project at SUNY New Paltz. More specifically, those in attendance protested the granting of a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement to Wilmorite by the UCIDA, which New Paltz town supervisor Susan Zimet claimed was “a 25 million dollar tax break.”
Zimet described the dispute with Wilmorite, as well as SUNY New Paltz, as a “David-and-Goliath battle that pits a small town and its struggling families against a state’s tax-shifting policies that benefit well-financed and well-connected corporations.” “We’re suing Wilmorite,” she said, “for the capricious and arbitrary action of screwing our town.”
The Town Board recently filed an Article 78 lawsuit against the Ulster County IDA, alleging that it created a special PILOT category specifically for Wilmorite. Wilmorite and the SUNY New Paltz Foundation, as well as private citizens whose land was purchased for the project, previously sued the Town of New Paltz for rejecting the project because it had received the PILOT agreement.
Under the PILOT agreement, Wilmorite will pay $522,000 in its first year, as opposed to the $1.5 million that the town estimates that it would owe in full taxes on the project’s 50 acres. Over a 25-year period between 2014 and 2039, the developer submitted a plan to pay $3.9 million to the Town of New Paltz, as well as $1.4 million to Ulster County and $6.4 million to the schools.
Of the money paid to the town, approximately $50,000 would go toward an “impact fee,” to offset the cost to the police force caused by the addition of 732 beds to available student housing. The Center for Government Research estimated in late 2013 that $3 million would be needed for additional policing over the next 25 years because of the development. Wilmorite gave a more conservative estimate of $300,000.
At last Wednesday’s rally, New Paltz chief of police Joseph Snyder argued that Park Point would unduly increase the burden on police forces without providing them with a sufficient increase in funding. “Our budgets are getting tighter every day, and yet the demands on our police agency are getting greater and greater,” he said. “It’s not a fair increase of demands on our town without the revenue to offset the increase.” “Having a project as this come in with additional needs for the police will be overwhelming for us,” he added.
“It’s time for corporations to pay their fair share,” argued CSEA Southern Region president Billy Riccaldo. The CSEA is on the record as opposing PILOT programs that lack what are called “clawback provisions,” through which the state or county can reclaim money if promises about job creation are not met. Though the Ulster County IDA can impose clawback provisions, it refrained from doing so with Park Point.
Ulster County legislator Hector Rodriguez described the agreement as “a deep problem.” “It’s quite clear that with regards to this project, the IDA went and created a special set of rules to create this scenario,” he said, “and New Paltz is the only community that would be affected by this particular type of project.”
All speakers touched not only on the Park Point project, but also on how IDAs and PILOT projects perform statewide. Rodriguez argued that “The state of New York has to step in at this point” to “basically reevaluate how we regulate IDAs.” His colleague Ken Wishnick concurred, calling IDAs “a virtual rubber stamp.”
Ron Deutsch, director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, echoed Wishnick when he said, “What’s happening in New Paltz is happening all over New York State.”
The refrain throughout was for helping New Paltz citizens with what the speakers viewed as an unfair tax burden that the Park Point project would only increase. Town councilman Kevin Barry described “an economic siege” of local families that he believed “continues to intensify. This siege has been orchestrated by an unholy alliance between state and federally elected officials motivated solely by their own political ambitions — ambitions funded by corporate partners whose sole desire is to reap economic benefits to generate profit.”
Riccaldo called for the state to “stop downsizing, stop eliminating services and stop taking the money away from our children.” The assembled local citizens, activists, politicians and CSEA members cheered this sentiment.