John Morrow steps up to lead Ulster County economic development agency

(Photo by Dan Barton)

Ulster councilman and deputy supervisor John Morrow was unanimously elected chair of the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency by his colleagues this Wednesday morning, July 12, at the county office building in Kingston. He succeeds banker Mike Horodyski, a resident of Highland who resigned last month after holding the unpaid position since 2013.

“I’m a team player,” said Morrow about his pending selection in a telephone interview last Friday, “I guess it’s my turn in the barrel.”

The Lake Katrine resident has been deputy chair and head of the governance committee at the county agency. “We need quality jobs in Ulster County,” he said. “We need to make Ulster County the go-to place for business.”

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Morrow blamed the slow pace of economic development in Ulster County on NIMBYism (“Not In My Back Yard”). The atmosphere in the county was too often negative toward business, he said. Citizens were always finding things wrong with proposed projects, he added, citing as an example the withdrawn Niagara Bottling plant proposed near TechCity in his town a couple of years ago.

Morrow felt the county, lacking rail service and a significant commercial airport, badly needed improved infrastructure in order to provide sites to attract industry. “We need to identify our strengths, analyze what we can do, and work together,” said the IDA chair-elect, a retired state police investigator who formerly owned Safeco Alarm Systems in Kingston.

President of Wallkill Valley Federal Savings & Loan, a rapidly expanding bank, Mike Horodyski was the sole IDA member with deep experience in running a substantial business. As IDA chair, Horodyski displayed a skill set of someone used to relationships with various commercial and industrial proposals.

He has been on several non-profit boards and was, until his defeat in the most recent election, a councilman in Lloyd. Though his own political views are often on the moderately conservative side, Horodyski has been a good listener and responded well to views contrary to his own. On the rare occasions when he was outnumbered in an IDA board discussion or vote, he was not a sore loser.

He was IDA chair during a prickly process involving the 258-unit Park Point, a proposed privately built dormitory next to the SUNY New Paltz campus. The IDA’s proposed payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) arrangement was strenuously opposed as inadequate by the local governments, and a court eventually sustained the town planning board’s rejection of the application. Promising to seek “input from all taxing jurisdictions and the community where the project resides,” the IDA ended up devising a PILOT schedule for college dormitories and senior housing with a range of fixed annual per-unit payments. There haven’t been any applications yet under the new schedule.

After years of criticism of local IDA giveaways to developers who failed to deliver on their jobs or other promises, the state government strengthened its reporting system, called PARIS (Public Authorities Reporting Information System). Since the state also insisted on supporting evidence for decisions, the Ulster County IDA adopted a PILOT points calculator to measure the public benefits of all projects. Banker Horodyski, not unfamiliar with a heavy regulatory regimen, steered the agency toward compliance with these state regulatory requirements. It was probably his most significant accomplishment during his four-year tenure as county IDA chair.

The IDA-devised points calculator provides guidelines. As an IDA public hearing this Monday at the Ulster town hall illustrated, it does not eliminate membership judgment. Chair Morrow and the other members have a job to do. The IDA hopes to make a decision on August 9 on the revised application of 2-4 Kieffer Lane, LLC, owned by construction entrepreneur and Kingston High School alumnus Tom Auringer, to avoid $874,300 in sales taxes on about $12 million in equipment to be headquartered in Ulster County and used mostly elsewhere.

The new application was presented Monday night. Like its predecessor, it is promising 18 full-time jobs, 14 paying (including benefits) between $75,000 and $150,000 annually and four paying $45,000. The applicant is not seeking a PILOT arrangement.

Responding to complaints at a previous public hearing that his mobile cranes would compete with those owned by Tony Costanzi, owner for 35 years of a local crane firm on Sawkill Road, Auringer had revised his application. He said he would purchase tower cranes, used mostly for high buildings in New York City, rather than mobile cranes, thereby lessening competition with Costanzi. According to the US Crane & Rigging (another Auringer-owned firm) website, the company’s locations include a Brooklyn headquarters, and warehouses and yards in Queens, The Bronx and now Kingston.

Auringer has been expanding into building materials, with a pre-cast concrete plant which his attorney said employs 48 people on Kieffer Lane, a steel fabrication plant in Newburgh, and a Port Jervis recycling plant. Auringer has been promising more jobs in all these  locations.

At the end of the hearing Monday evening, Auringer, whom his attorney said employed about 250 people at his various construction-related enterprises, spoke briefly. Everybody was missing the point, he said. There’d be jobs in Kingston for truck drivers, maintenance people, technicians, engineers, crane operators, designers, etc.

“There’ll be tons of work here in Ulster County,” he said expansively. “This is just the beginning.”

Auringer illustrated the boundaries of his ambitions with a reference to the relationship between the tower cranes he had asked the sales-tax break on and the rest of his crane-operating capacities. Just because he was seeking an exemption from sales taxes from Ulster County in order to pay less for tower cranes didn’t mean he might not store and use mobile cranes, including some like Costanzi’s, in Kingston. He didn’t try to hide that intention.

Megan Denver, representing Costanzi at the Monday hearing, was also at the IDA meeting Wednesday morning. In a public comment from the audience, she said that Auringer was looking directly at her, his competitor in the mobile crane business, when he said in his final comments, “Those mobile cranes are coming.” She hoped the board members had noticed that.

Auringer is a tough guy in a tough industry. But perhaps the very end of this Ulster hearing was not the best occasion for a gratuitous reminder. Said Denver, “It was disturbing to me.”

Commented John Morrow in a level voice, “The board did notice that.”

The transcript of the Monday public hearing will be available next week. The IDA meeting agenda on August 9 will in all probability include a discussion of and an agency vote on the Kieffer Lane project.

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