March 16, 2012 —
The Sullivan County legislators voted unanimously on March 15 to pass a resolution that transfers parcels at and around the Apollo Plaza to the Sullivan County Funding Corporation for the purpose of attracting a big box store and other retail outlets.
The new legislators on the board had blocked movement on the proposal until questions about the deal were cleared up, and until new language was inserted into the related resolution to assure the lawmakers, they said, that they were getting the best possible deal for the taxpayers.
Part of the land in question was purchased by the county back in 2002 for $3.5 millionm, for the purpose of expanding the landfill. The landfill was ultimately closed, but the taxpayers will still be paying off the bond on the land until 2018.
Legislator Cora Edwards wanted to be certain that any revenues coming from the sale of that acreage be used to pay down the bond, and ultimately an amendment was added to the resolution which calls for the establishment of a reserve fund to achieve that goal. Also, the amendment says that if the development company, Chancellor Livingston, which is trying to lure a big box store, is unsuccessful after 18 months, the property reverts back to the county at no cost to the county.
Edwards sent an email to supporters that said, “New jobs and investment are vital, but so are rebuilding the county budget and making sure that every business…delivers on its promises. By placing funds in a special account to repay the county’s bond obligations, making sure that title to the land reverts to the county in case the deal falls through…this resolution guarantees a fair deal for everyone."
Another concern about the proposed deal is that an acre of property, which includes the old movie theater, is to be carved out as space for a non-profit. It has been widely reported in the past the non-profit is the Sullivan County YMCA.
Mike Dollard, owner of the Monticello Fitness testified at the public hearing before the vote that he was strongly opposed to including a space for the YMCA in the project, in part, because the organization already has many advantages over his tax-paying business because of the YMCA’s tax exempt status.
Others speakers also expressed objections to the deal.
Legislator Kathy LaBuda said she agreed with Dollard and the others about the non-for-profit, but said, “I have to tell you, in the big picture, I couldn’t let that be the deal-breaker, I’m not going to stop the project from going forward because of that little piece.” She added, “As a legislator who represents the entire county, it’s not about one business or one group, but it’s about the entire county, and that facility will bring us sale tax money that we lack.”
To address lawmakers concerns about the matter, however, an amendment was added to the resolution saying that any nonprofit that becomes part of the deal will have to sign a community benefits agreement, which according to Edwards, “holds organizations accountable for pubic subsidies received in the form of government grants and tax exemptions or other concessions.”
The process of addressing some concerns took a few months and was the cause of frustration for some of the people involved, but in the end was beneficial according to legislator Alan Sorenson. He said “This was a very good example of how people on the legislature, who all come with different skill sets, had the opportunity to contribute to the process, and I do think that the final agreement is much better as a result of that.”