February 17, 2012 —
A resolution to transfer title to county-owned properties in and around the Apollo Plaza to the Sullivan County Funding Corporation (SCFC) remains tabled as newly elected lawmakers and residents have questions about the process.
In a meeting at the government center on February 16, the SCFC was called a sister organization to the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) and the board members are the same people for both organizations.
The intent of the legislature has been to have the parcels, collectively known as the East Broadway Re-Development Properties, serve as a location for a big box store and perhaps other retail outlets, with the goal of providing jobs and increasing sales tax revenues for the counties. The previous legislature voted to give the development deal to Chancellor Livingston LLC, which will seek to attract tenants or buyers for the properties.
Lawmaker Jonathan Rouis, who was formerly chair of the legislature, said transferring the properties to the SCFC rather than the IDA provided Chancellor Livingston “flexibility” in marketing the properties.
But open government advocate Dave Colavito questioned the need for using SCFC. He said it is essentially a local economic development corporation and he quoted New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli as saying, “the use of them increases the chance of waste or abuse of taxpayer dollars or assets”
Lawmaker Cindy Geiger said, “I’m not really familiar with the Sullivan County Funding Corporation, what individuals control it, who the members are, how they’re appointed, what control the legislature has over it, and what are the risks associated with dealing with the funding corporation as opposed to dealing with the IDA.”
A large part of the acreage in question was purchased by the county in 2002 for $3.7 million for the purpose of expanding the landfill, which is also part of the property. After years of legal battles the expansion goal was abandoned, but payments on the bond will remain through 2018.
Lawmaker Cora Edwards asked if that property was sold, would the payments go to pay off the bond.
County Treasurer Ira Cohn said any money realized from the sale of that property, in his opinion, should go into a debt reserve fund for future bond payments. But he added, “The problem with that concept is the sale and/or use of that property, which was bonded for one purpose to be used for another purpose, may have its own consequences that have not yet been discussed or considered.”
Another concern among some is that the deal calls for about one acre of the property to be carved out from the rest as a possible home for a nonprofit organization. In the past it has been widely reported that some members of the community considered this to be a sweetheart deal for the Sullivan County YMCA, which competes with the for-profit Monticello business Fitness Factory Health Club.
Former lawmaker David Sager said that he had concerns about the way that deal came about, and he is investigating the matter. Others questioned why there should be space for a nonprofit when the aim of the entire project is to raise tax revenue for the county.
Another concern expressed privately is a possible appearance of a conflict of interest. The property for the landfill was purchased in part from an entity called the Rose Valley Industrial Park, and documents related to the transfer of the land indicate that Harold Gold was the secretary of the organization at the time. Gold is now on the board of the IDA and the SCFC.
Finally, the resolution says that the county will receive 90% of the revenues from any sale of the property, with the remaining going to the SCFC.
It is not clear when the project might move forward. However, Sager warned the new lawmakers that even though there may be questions surrounding some aspects of the project, “I want to caution you as a group that you don’t want to be labeled with the stigma of standing in the way of economic development in Sullivan County.”