Members of the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) could not have voted on a tax package for Wildberry Lodge & Spa at their June 13 meeting if they had wanted to, as the environmental review (SEQRA)must be completed by town officials first. As a result, the swearing in of four new members of the IDA — a majority of this seven-member body — was not followed by asking them to vote on a multi-million-dollar project in New Paltz right out of the gate.
Outgoing member John Livermore, upon whom was conferred a plaque to commemorate his service, was also the first to weigh in about Wildberry during the public comment period, saying that he was “quite shocked” to hear county legislator Joe Maloney say at the June 4 public hearing that he intended on appointing members to the IDA “to vote no,” in Livermore’s words. He urged the present members to “follow the guidelines” rather than acceding to any political pressures when considering the project, opining that 145 full-time-equivalent jobs is a “really big number.”
Ulster Town Supervisor Jim Quigley used stronger language in criticizing the Saugerties legislator, saying that he was “appalled” that a lawmaker from the other side of the county would speak in opposition to the project, when New Paltz Supervisor Neil Bettez threw in his public support. Quigley zeroed in on one of Maloney’s comments — that projects appropriate for tax breaks are those at the scale of semiconductor manufacturer Global Foundries — by reminding IDA members that county executive Mike Hein has been working to transition the county economy from industrial to tourism, and that a Global Foundries bid “would be rejected today” by citizens who wish to preserve the rural character of the area.
Maloney was not present, but he was defended to some extent by sometime political ally Hector Rodriguez, who said that it’s “worthwhile to ask questions” about economic development with a “full-throated” dialog; nevertheless, he also said that he is “ultimately hopeful that this project is induced.”
County Economic Development Director Suzanne Holt fielded questions about the project’s precise numbers, which came up both at the hearing and this meeting. It’s “not uncommon” to simply use the highest possible figures as a conservative estimate, she said; the finances “can be in flux . . . until they’re done” being built and the specifics can be confirmed.
New IDA member Richard Jones, whose appointment was supported by legislator Maloney, signaled some reticence about the Wildberry package when he said he was “shocked” that these tax breaks would extend out 15 years, with nothing but the tax now being paid to be owed for the first five. Jones, a retired banker, expressed “concern” about the burden this might place on New Paltz residents.
John Morrow, elected chair of this board, advised Jones that reviewing such rules might be an appropriate topic of discussion, but as the Wildberry application was submitted under the universal tax-exemption policy as presently written, that’s the rules against which it must be evaluated.
It’s not expected that Wildberry will be on the agenda for the July 25 IDA meeting.