“A crane is a crane,” said Ulster County IDA member Randall Leverette at the agency’s June 14 meeting in Kingston, “like a lawyer is a lawyer.” Lawyer Joe Scott, who provides specialized counsel to IDAs statewide, was sitting two seats away from Leverette. Scott permitted himself a small smile, but had no immediate comment.
The cranes in question, used for construction, were those owned by 2-4 Kieffer Lane, LLC, a company headed by Thomas Auringer. Auringer, who also owns U.S. Crane and affiliated businesses in Brooklyn and Queens and operates steel-fabrication facilities in Newburgh and Port Jervis, grew up in Kingston and now resides in Nassau County.
Auringer’s enterprises are non-union, which has made him particularly unpopular with organized labor in the Big Apple, the biggest union town in the nation. Labor has issued a long list of complaints against Auringer-related enterprises, based on OSHA inspections, ex-employee testimony, allegedly faulty business records and exaggerated job-creation figures.
Auringer and his attorney, Timothy McColgan of New Paltz, have said that he has settled legal actions without an admission of guilt. They have said they will discuss these matters with the IDA only in executive session. Such a session was scheduled for Wednesday, June 21 at 6:30 p.m. in the legislative chambers of the county office building.
Though U.S. Crane does the bulk of its business in New York City, Auringer is interested in expanding upstate. The initial application to the IDA from Kieffer would provide mobile crane services from Kingston to Buffalo. But the company withdrew that application and submitted a revised one describing that geographic scope as a typographical error. The Kingston-based business would serve from New York City to Buffalo. And it would host tower cranes rather than mobile cranes.
Keiffer and U.S. Crane are seeking an IDA exemption from sales taxes on some $12.2 million in equipment. If his application is granted, Auringer would avoid paying $978,000 in sales taxes.
The four-acre parcel on Kieffer Lane off Route 9W that Auringer bought from Millens Steel for two million dollars contained a 38,000-square-foot building. Today, huge pieces of freshly painted red crane parts occupy part of the site near the building. Other Kieffer Lane parcels are occupied by businesses offering pre-cast concrete and other building materials. On a recent visit, several active cement mixers marked CBC (Cranesville Block Company, a fast-expanding upstate operator of ready-mix and aggregate plants) were moving around the industrial parcel next to Auringer’s; steel scaffolding indicated a new building under construction.
Later in the meeting at the county office building in Kingston last Wednesday morning, agency chair Mike Horodyski announced he was stepping down from the seven-person agency board, which he joined in 2011 and became chairman of in 2013. Horodyski insisted that his decision, which in a private conversation he said that he has been considering for the past couple of months, had nothing to do with his position on the pending crane application, which he has been more favorably inclined to consider than had some of his colleagues on the agency board. “Our discussion today,” he had told his colleagues at the meeting, “has been emotional and vigorous, the way it should be.”
Wallkill Valley Federal Savings & Loan, of which Horodyski is president, recently acquired Hometown Bank of the Hudson Valley. Very active in civic and community matters, Horodyski is a Highland resident and former town-board member who serves on local and regional boards.
“Something had to give,” he explained. It was his IDA membership that gave.
Horodyski said after the meeting that he had not yet made up his mind on the crane application. He no longer needs to.
“A rose is a rose is a rose,” famously quoth Gertrude Stein.
In no uncertain terms, Randall Leverette last Wednesday morning argued against a tax exemption for the Kieffer Lane project. “I’ll vote against it,” quoth he. “I will not abide it. We were using the word ‘unique.’ A crane is a crane is a crane.’”
Project opponents have pointed to IDA regulations requiring that the goods or services provided by applicants shouldn’t be competitive with existing goods and services. They have to be ‘unique.’ Kieffer’s original application argued it would be “the only business of its type with this category of mobile cranes in all of Ulster County.”
The amended application calls for freestanding tower cranes, a different type of crane that makes the service offered even more specialized. Used particularly for high-rise construction, tower cranes can be “jumped” in order to enhance their lifting height, according to a Camoin Associates study for the IDA paid for by the applicant.
Costanzi Crane & Rigging on Sawkill Road in the Town of Ulster is the only other crane service firm in Ulster County. Megan Denver, who testified on behalf of owner Tony Costanzi, told the IDA that the company’s cranes could handle any job. If a different kind of crane was needed, she said, Costanzi could rent it.
Withdrawing the Kieffer Lane application for mobile cranes and submitting instead an application for tower cranes may have made the Auringer business less competitive with Costanzi’s. But it also made it more remote from crane usage in Ulster County as well.
Mike Ham of the local chapter of the International Union of Operating Engineers noted there were only four tower cranes between the northern Westchester County line and Buffalo. “They’re not gonna be here,” commented IDA member John Livermore. “There is no demand for these cranes in Ulster County.”
The IDA board was restive. If a public hearing is scheduled and held on the revised application, there can be no guarantee that the result will be positive for Auringer.
In its 40-year-plus history, the Ulster County IDA has rarely if ever turned down an application for assistance from a business that on many counts seems to qualify for it. The agency casts a wide pro-business net. At the beginning of every meeting since he became chairman, Horodyski has read aloud the agency’s mission statement: “The mission of the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency is to advance the job opportunities, general prosperity and long-term economic vitality of Ulster County residents by targeting tax incentives, bonding and other assistance to foster creation and attraction of new business and the retention and expansion of existing business.”
All bets are off this time. The outcome appears uncertain.