Paul Brown: Ebola and UCIDA have something in common

paul-brown-SQThey both can bleed you dry. The Ebola virus first appeared in 1976 when a more benign infection mutated into the deadly form of the virus that the medical community is faced with today. Ebola attacks the vital organs and causes internal and external bleeding, resulting in death in more than 50% of cases.

The New York State Industrial Development Agency (IDA) virus was originally conceived of as a beneficial strain when it was created by an act of the New York State Legislature in 1969 for the purpose of facilitating economic development and improving economic conditions in local counties and municipalities. The thought was that by providing tax relief to start-up businesses, more jobs would be created and prosperity would ensue. Eventually, the tax relief would end and the businesses would take over payment of their full ‘fair share’ of taxes, just like every other for-profit entity in our state.

The Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) was created in 1976, also by an act of the State legislature and coincidentally in the same year that the Ebola virus first appeared. Although the UCIDA virus was supposed to be of the same strain as the statewide IDA virus, in 2012 a mutation occurred that now threatens to seriously infect the taxpayers of Ulster County if no cure is found.


The mutation first appeared in September of 2012 when the board of directors of UCIDA amended its policy to adopt something called “Category 5.” Category 5 added “dormitory housing” as a new type of development project eligible for tax abatements even if the dormitories were built by a private, for-profit developer. It was this inclusion of dormitory housing along with the insatiable appetite for profits of a certain private developer called Wilmorite that led to the current plight of our town.

For the past 18 months we have been learning about the financial havoc that would be wreaked on those who pay taxes to the Town of New Paltz and the New Paltz Central School District if the UCIDA virus was allowed to contaminate our community through its tax breaks to Park Point, Wilmorite’s $60 million 700-plus bed rental development project would pay only one-third of its fair share of taxes for years to come. Local taxpayers would slowly be bled dry, as they were forced to make up the shortfall between the amount Wilmorite would pay and the cost to our community of the services Park Point would require.

Traditionally in medicine, a vector is an organism that does not cause disease itself but which spreads infection by conveying pathogens from one host to another. Key to protecting ourselves against the UCIDA virus is a full understanding of the vectors that triggered the mutation resulting in the deadly Category 5 strain.

The members of the UCIDA Board of Directors at the time the mutation occurred were David O’Halloran, Mike Horodyski, Paul Colucci, Robert Kinnin, James Malcolm, John Morrow and Steve Perfit. I hope these individuals will step forward in the days to come and describe the particular vectors that brought the malevolent virus to Ulster County. What were they thinking when they adopted the new Category 5? What made them consider the adoption of the new category in the first place? Did the vector that enabled private developers to begin taking over what had traditionally been the responsibility of the New York Dormitory Authority originate outside of Ulster County (about 56 miles to the north perhaps)? The answers to these questions will help us fight off the virus, particularly if it turns out that a less than savory process led to the development of the mutation here in Ulster County. If that is found to be the case, the entire legitimacy of including dormitories in UCIDA’s tax abatement policy could be called into question.

When the State builds dormitories, the cost is borne by taxpayers statewide who back the bonds that enable the construction. Dormitory fees paid by the students and their parents are then used to pay off the bonds. At this point, the State owns the buildings outright, an asset which benefits the taxpayers. This is a tried and true system that works. What happens though if a private corporation is permitted to build dormitories? Let’s use the example of Wilmorite right here in New Paltz. If Park Point were to be built, the taxpayers of our community would pay taxes from their own pockets to our town and school district in order to make up the shortfall in the cost of community services required by the development, a shortfall created by the tax abatement Wilmorite was granted by UCIDA. That would be the impact on our taxpayers.

What would be the impact on Wilmorite? Well, a far more positive one as it turns out. Wilmorite has already been granted a huge tax break by UCIDA and, if Park Point were to be built, would collect the rent checks and use part of that profit to make lease payments to the SUNY New Paltz Foundation for the land on which the dormitories would sit. At the conclusion of the lease arrangement, the buildings would revert to the Foundation, which would continue to collect the rent checks and not pay a dime in taxes because the Foundation is a tax-exempt entity. A sweet deal for everyone, except of course the taxpayers of our community.

Thankfully, the two Americans who contracted the Ebola virus have recovered and may now be immune from further infection. We wish all the best to our Town Board as it fights the fine fight against the UCIDA virus. Our government’s efforts, if successful, will benefit every taxpayer in the State of New York and hopefully lead to immunity for us all.