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The Kingstonain tax-free deal for luxury apartments would pay no school tax

Editorial Board

This week, the Kingston Common Council unanimously approved general terms for a $30.6 million dollar deviated payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for the Kingstonian project. Although the Kingston Common Council may believe that the tax-free deal for luxury apartments is a good deal for Kingston, it is only one of the three involved agencies that will need to approve the PILOT before it can be implemented by the Ulster County Industrial Development Corporation (UCIDA).  The agencies include the Ulster County Legislature (UCL) and the Board of Education (BOE) for the Kingston City School District (KCSD). We anticipate the two remaining agencies will hold public discussions and a vote sometime in September and October. Write and call your representatives and ask when the PILOT is scheduled to be on their agenda and to explain in advance (and in writing) the impacts of a tax-free deal for luxury housing will have on your school taxes.

A wealthy developer will pay no school tax for 25 years?

What didn’t get a whole lot of traction during the Kingston council debate was the fact that the Kingstonian developer will pay nearly no school tax to the KCSD, and that impact will be felt by every municipality that pays into the school tax base.

In their PILOT application, the developers say that they anticipate minimal impact on the Kingston City School District because a similar project of theirs’ in Poughkeepsie has produced no school-aged residents. To further woo decision-makers, the developers are offering a $5,000 per year (for ten years) scholarship fund through the Community Foundation for the KCSD to use at their discretion. This translates into $50,000 over the course of 10 years in exchange for no school taxes for 25 years.  Another pittance in comparison to their school tax without a PILOT is a $40,000 payment that will be apportioned to the city, county and school district. If 60% of the total tax burden – or approximately $24,000 a year – would be paid to the school district, all it would take is 1 1/2 new students to wipe that out.

What will it cost us?

So far, the developers characterize their financial information as “trade secrets” and have aggressively sought to shield that financial information from the public. Without this important information, the public does not know what portion of the $57,885,000 project is taxable and therefore, has no ability to calculate cost or potential benefits to taxpayers over 25 years. 

Thought at a recent special Kingston Common Council Finance and Audit Committee meeting, City of Kingston Assessor Dan Baker said that if the Kingstonian project were built today, the full property assessed value would be $19,000,000.  Based on the 2019-2020 non-homestead tax rate, the school tax calculation of $30.10 per $1000, the school tax bill alone would be approximately $571,900 per year.  Assuming the assessed value fluctuates and increases based on inflation and cost of living from year to year, the uncollected school taxes could end up being a staggering $18 million dollars over the life of the 25 year PILOT

A tax-free deal for luxury apartments in Kingston will be felt beyond the Kingston city boundary. PILOTs result in less taxable value which requires everyone else to make up the difference. Municipalities that pay Kingston City School taxes include the Towns of Esopus, Hurley, Marbletown, New Paltz, Kingston, Rosendale, Saugerties, Ulster and Woodstock.  

Take action  

CLICK ON THIS LINK to send a letter to the Ulster County Legislators that represent those living in the impacted communities and the Board of Education to insist that the Kingston Project developers pay their fair share of school taxes. You can also call your representatives at the numbers below.

A tax-free deal for luxury apartments in Kingston will be felt beyond the Kingston city boundary. PILOTs result in less taxable value which requires everyone else to make up the difference. Municipalities that pay Kingston City School taxes include the Towns of Esopus, Hurley, Marbletown, New Paltz, Kingston, Rosendale, Saugerties, Ulster and Woodstock.  

The developers will be counting on the Ulster County Legislature and Board of Education in September and October to approve their PILOT terms. Will our representatives allow the developer to defer taxes for the school district because the applicant claims that there will not be school aged children living in the Kingstonian property?  By this logic, anyone without children in the public school system should not be required to pay school taxes. 

Education is a public good for which we all have a responsibility to pay taxes because we all benefit from an educated populace. Tell your Ulster County Legislature the BOE to reject the Kingstonian tax-free deal and insist that they pay their fair share of taxes for their luxury apartment and boutique hotel development. 

(Image above courtesy of Hasbro Monopoly)

Ulster County Legislature with constituents in the Kingston City School District

Mary Wawro (District 1) includes Town of Saugerties
(845) 246-1017

Al Bruno (District 2) includes Town of Saugerties
(845) 340-3900 (Legislature offices)

Dean Fabriano (District 3) includes Town of Saugerties and Town of Ulster (845) 246-2067 or (845) 389-5201

Brian Cahill (District 4) Town of Ulster and Town of Kingston
(845) 340-3900 (Legislature offices)

Abe Uchitelle (District 5) City of Kingston
(845) 340-3900 (Legislature offices)

Dave Donaldson (District 6) City of Kingston
(845) 399-8709 or (845) 331-8985

Peter Criswell (District 7) City of Kingston
(845) 340-3900 (Legislature offices)

Laura Petit (District 8) Town of Esopus
(845) 340-1293

James Delaune (District 17)  Town of Esopus
(914) 475-4342

Heidi Haynes (District 18) Town of Hurley and Marbletown
(845) 224-1806

Manna Jo Greene (District 19) Town of Rosendale and Marbletown
(845) 687-9253  

Johnathan Hepner (District 23) Town of Woodstock and Hurley
(845) 594-3141  

Kingston City School District: Board of Education 

James Shaugnessy, President
845-339-5262 

Steven Spicer, Vice President
845-340-1103

Cathy Collins

Herb Lamb
845-334-8844

Priscila Lowe
845-331-2298

Robin Jacobowitz
917-566-6957

Suzanne Jordan
845-339-0002 

James Michael
845-389-4746

Nora Scherer
845-339-3909

Next Steps: Kingstonian PILOT and the City of Kingston Common Council

By Rebecca Martin

Last night, the Kingstonian deviated PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement passed through the Kingston Common Council Finance and Audit committee by a 3-1 vote.

Yes: Tony Davis (Ward 6); Rennie Scott-Childress (Ward 3) and Doug Koop (Ward 2). 

No: Michelle Hirsch (Ward 9)

Recused: Steve Schabott (Ward 8). A recusal is an automatic ‘no’ vote.

There’s been some chatter about whether or not a recusal (not to be confused with an abstention) equals a “no” vote, and indeed it does. Here’s an example: During the proposed shooting range project vote in 2016, an alderman had to recuse himself because of a conflict resulting in a “no” vote. “James Noble said a recusal by Davis would be recorded as a “no” vote.” The same will be true next week when Alderman Schabot recuses himself from voting on the Kingstonian PILOT.

READ: “Kingston council president will ask Laws and Rules Committee to discuss proposed shooting range”

READ: “Recusal and Abstention from Voting: Guiding Principles”

Thanks to both Alderwoman Hirsch and Council President Shaut for asking the only real substantive questions during the meeting. The Oscar goes to Ward 6 Alderman Tony Davis for his riveting performances.

Although the parking garage is the centerpiece of the PILOT agreement, it succeeded to move through committee even without a clear number and explanation of parking spaces that would be made available to the public (the developer stated that he couldn’t give the parking space variance numbers ‘exactly’ before making an apples / oranges comparison between the Uptown Kingston proposal and a project of theirs in Poughkeepsie).

Next Steps

The Kingstonian PILOT will now go to the Kingston Common Council caucus meeting on Monday, August 3 at 7:00pm where the full council will discuss the PILOT and what happens next. The public can call their council representative and request that during caucus, the PILOT be sent back to committee in order for all of critical questions that have been raised to be answered and put in writing. Without it, we won’t have a clear understanding of what the community is being asked to provide and what we can expect in return.

If the council decides not to send the PILOT back to committee that evening, then it will go on to the floor for a full council vote at the Kingston Common Council meeting on Tuesday, August 4 at 7:30pm.

Counting Votes

TAKE ACTION: We encourage the Kingston community to reach out to the following council members before August 3 to request that the Kingstonian PILOT either be sent back to committee or denied until all of the critical QUESTIONS THAT HAVE BEEN RAISED are not only answered but put in writing so that there is a clear understanding of what the community is being asked to provide and what we can expect to receive in return.

In counting votes, the PILOT has four solid ‘yes’ votes that include: Ward 2 Alderman Doug Koop, Ward 3 Alderman Rennie Scott-Childress, Ward 5 Alderman Don Tallerman and Ward 6 Alderman Tony Davis.

At this time, there is only one publicly known ‘no’ vote for next week’s council meeting: Ward 8 Alderman Steve Schabot (who has recused himself as he works for one of the developers. A recusal is an automatic ‘no’ vote as described above).

The passage or denial of the Kingstonian PILOT agreement therefore hangs in the balance of the following council members:

Ward 1 Alderman Jeffrey Ventura-Morell
ward1@kingston-ny.gov

Ward 4 Alderwoman Rita Worthington
ward4@kingston-ny.gov

Ward 7 Alderman Patrick O’Reilly
ward7@kingston-ny.gov

Ward 9 Alderwoman Michelle Hirsch
ward9@kingston-ny.gov

Other Involved Agencies

As a deviated PILOT, keep in mind that the Kingston City School District Board of Education and the Ulster County Legislature both need to approve the conditions of the Kingstonian PILOT request before the developer can move forward with the UCIDA. The timing of this is anyone’s guess.

What we do know, is that the next Ulster County Industrial Corporation Agency (UCIDA) meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, August 12 at 9:00am.

Outstanding Lawsuits

So far, the Kingston common council, in their discussion about the Kingstonian PILOT, have not referenced the litigation that is pending on the Kingstonian Negative Declaration SEQR decision by the Kingston Planning Board.

However, in a recent letter (submitted on July 17) from the Law Offices of Rodenhausen Chale & Polidoro LLP by Victoria L. Polidoro, who represents several property owners in Uptown, Kingston, the UCIDA was reminded of the following:

The IDA Should Not Consider the Application Until the Pending Article 78 is Resolved

The IDA should refrain from acting on the application until the pending SEQRA litigation is resolved, as any decision it makes may thereafter be invalidated.

The IDA is Not Authorized to Grant the Application

As a threshold matter the IDA does not have authority to consider or grant the Application for the Project which includes residential housing units. The IDA’s Housing Projects Policy, which was reaffirmed on January 8, 2020, only allows IDA financing it limited circumstances. It provides that:

A. The Agency will only consider the granting of any “financial assistance” (asdefined under the Act) for following projects that provide housing:

  1. A project that satisfies the definition of a continuing care retirement community project under Section 859-b of the Act; or
  2. A project by an industrial, manufacturing, warehousing, commercial,research and recreation facility (as defined in the Act) that provides workforce housing for its employees.

Last but not least, the conflicts of interest

On January 8, 2020 in our letter to the Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules committee, we requested that Ward 5 Alderman Don Tallerman recuse himself from any decision-making pertaining to the Kingstonian project. Not only did he appear in a promotional video on the developer’s website (which they have since taken down) he has also delivered public testimony in favor of the zoning change (while opposing the call for affordable housing for the project and supporting the PILOT its parking garage). His testimonies occurred months after he had already declared his candidacy for the council (Daily Freeman 2/20/19: Kingston Democrats Choose Slate of Candidates for November Election). Because he operates an event venue, the Senate Garage, that is directly across from the project site, he stands to significantly benefit directly financially from the development which represents a conflict of interest.

An image taken from the video of support of Don Tallerman (prior to his run for office) that was featured on the Kingstonian project’s website. It was taken down almost immediately after the city received our letter on January 8 letter pointing out the conflicts of interest.

PROMISES WITH NO DATA: The Mayor of Kingston Comments on the Kingstonian PILOT

Photo credit: Paul Kirby, The Daily Freeman

By Editorial Board

The Mayor of Kingston sent out a press release today, one day before the Kingston Common Council’s Finance and Audit Committee is set to review the Kingstonian PILOT request of 25 years at 100% tax exempt in exchange for an air conditioned / heated parking garage that will primarily serve luxury housing tenants and boutique hotel guests.  This is certainly not the first attempt by the Mayor to try to influence the legislative branch in their decision-making at a time when they should have autonomy.  

Below is a breakdown of the Mayor’s communication, paragraph by paragraph, that includes some of what was omitted, misleading or missing from his statement.  

“The Kingstonian project is of great importance to our City – not only will it bring desperately needed housing stock to our community, along with much-needed parking, the hotel and retail spaces will bring visitors and tax revenue. The developers have committed to paying a living wage for all new jobs created to operate the apartments, hotel and garage complex, and the public plaza will be a welcomed addition to Uptown. A PILOT for this project will have no negative tax implications, only positive!”
–  Mayor Noble

The Kingstonian luxury housing project offers apartments where the rents would be market rate (+) and unattainable to most of the Kingston community.  In the PILOT application, the Kingstonian applicant is only asked to provide a living wage for a single adult. They state that 84% of their jobs would pay $20.73 per hour, which is not nearly enough for that single person if they were raising a child in the community.   Such a worker will not earn enough to live in the Kingstonian luxury apartments and will most certainly have a hard time finding an apartment at an affordable monthly rent with a $20.73 per hour wage. It may end up being a second job for that single person who might end up living outside of the Kingston community due to the lack of affordable rentals in a county that has nearly a 0% vacancy rate.  

Read more…

KingstonCitizens.org Letter to Kingston Common Council Finance and Audit Committee and the Kingstonian PILOT

By Rebecca Martin and the KingstonCitizens.org Advisory Board

Dear Members of the Kingston Common Council Finance and Audit Committee,

On Tuesday of next week, the Kingstonian development team will submit an incomplete deviated Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) agreement to you for discussion. Council committee members will be in a position to either pass it out of committee for a full council vote in August or table the matter. We urge the Council to table the proposal thereby allowing time for the Finance and Audit committee to workshop the incomplete agreement. 

By requesting a special Finance and Audit committee meeting outside of the regular monthly scheduled time, it suggests that the Mayor wants the Council to make a swift and ill considered decision. As the direct representatives of Kingston taxpayers, we expect that his request will not pressure you. Council members must thoughtfully and carefully review the proposal so that the sacrifices being requested of the public are clear before approving the deviated pilot. 

If the PILOT is approved unchanged, the loss of potential tax revenues to our city and school budgets for mostly luxury and boutique hotel parking could simply devastate our already fiscally strained community.  We implore you to be keenly aware of your responsibility in assessing the value of the PILOT especially during a time of pandemic induced budget cuts because once approved there will be no going back. 

1. THE INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT AGENCY (IDA) MAY NOT BE AUTHORIZED TO GRANT THE KINGSTONIAN PILOT APPLICATION.  In a letter submitted to the IDA on July 17, 2020,  Victoria L. Polidoro, a lawyer who represents several property owners in Uptown, Kingston, points out that the IDA is not authorized to grant the application.  “As a threshold matter the IDA does not have authority to consider or grant the Application for the Project which includes residential housing units. The IDA’s Housing Projects Policy, which was reaffirmed on January 8, 2020, only allows IDA financing in limited circumstances. It provides that:   A. The Agency will only consider the granting of any “financial assistance” (as defined under the Act) for following projects that provide housing:  (1)  a project that satisfies the definition of a continuing care retirement community project under Section 859-b of the Act; or (2)  a project by an industrial, manufacturing, warehousing, commercial, research and recreation facility (as defined in the Act) that provides workforce housing for its employees.“ By approving the PILOT agreement now, the Council may be taking action prior to being certain that the IDA can legally authorize the PILOT request. 

2. THE IDA SHOULD NOT CONSIDER THE APPLICATION UNTIL THE PENDING ARTICLE 78 IS RESOLVED.  Included in Polidoro’s letter, she states that, “The IDA should refrain from acting on the application until the pending SEQRA litigation is resolved, as any decision it makes may thereafter be invalidated.“  

3. THE CENTERPIECE OF THE DEVELOPER’S LUXURY APARTMENT PROJECT PILOT IS A PARKING GARAGE. According to the Kingston zoning code, the minimum number of spaces needed to serve the Kingstonian project (for luxury housing, a boutique hotel and retail space) is 313 parking spaces. The proposed parking garage with 420 parking spaces is insufficient to replace the existing 144 public parking spaces stated while providing for an additional 313 parking spaces needed by the Project.  The Project will therefore result in a net loss of publicly available parking spaces. In addition, the Kingstonian will set the parking rates. Is the Kingston community, which may not be able to afford the air conditioned parking rates or find an available less costly, metered  spot, expected to otherwise park in the Kingston Plaza parking lot? 

4. AT A TIME OF FINANCIAL CRISIS WHEN THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC HAS LED TO CUTS IN CITY SERVICES AND JOBS, LOSS OF TAX REVENUE COULD BE SIMPLY DEVASTATING.  While the intricacies of the IDA, real estate investment, and PILOTs are complex, what should be clear is that the proposed Kingstonian PILOT deal could potentially harm the least well off in the city as well as hardworking taxpayers who already struggle to pay school and property taxes. For Council members who have advocated for social justice in housing, services for the poor, and children in need, the PILOT should be particularly worrisome. While not all PILOTs are exploitive, they must be balanced against the potential gains an investor or industry may bring to the area. The cost of the PILOT may be offset by community gains that have not yet been realized and won’t come to fruition until after the investment. Those gains may be larger than the PILOT subsidy. For example, if you averaged each Kingstonian luxury apartment to cost $1,800 per month x 129 without including the affordable housing, that’s $2.8 million dollars per year gross revenue just for apartments. Over 25 years, that’s $69.6 million dollars plus the additional grants and tax incentives. The PILOTs that cause concern, which is true in this case, are those structured to eliminate the investor’s financial risk while displacing that risk on to taxpayers. While every investor would like to eliminate risk, ordinary citizens aren’t able to shape the political landscape to achieve their preferred financial ends. Furthermore, new residents and businesses will be adding costs to the City’s budget for things like police, fire and sewer maintenance. These costs are normally covered by property taxes. For all of these reasons, their proposed $30.6 million dollar subsidy deserves increased scrutiny for the actual benefits to the city. 

5. AFFORDABLE HOUSING UNITS IN THE KINGSTONIAN PROJECT ARE NOT BOUND BY NYS RULES.  The 14 affordable housing units that developers inserted into the Kingstonian project after much outcry were not a concession. The developer added another floor to include the additional units, now making more money: the project became even bigger without the developer sacrificing anything in terms of profit. Additionally, the developer, as a private investor, will create these units without state tax credits and will therefore not be bound by state rules. Without a binding agreement (that outlines the units’ starting rent, their size and annual escalator rate), there is nothing to prevent the affordable units from escalating in value. The Kingstonian’s “affordable housing” could become luxury apartments at any time. The PILOT agreement can and must stipulate their affordable housing criteria. 

6. KINGSTON RESIDENTS PAY SCHOOL TAX IRRESPECTIVE OF WHETHER THEY HAVE CHILDREN WHO ATTEND PUBLIC SCHOOL BECAUSE EVERYONE BENEFITS FROM AN EDUCATED POPULACE.  The Kingstonian development team says that it anticipates minimal impact on the Kingston City School District as a similar project of theirs in Poughkeepsie has produced no school-aged residents. Following this logic, anyone without children in the public school system should not be required to pay school taxes. 

7. THE KINGSTON COMMON COUNCIL DECISION IS BEING MADE WITHOUT FULL TRANSPARENCY EVEN THOUGH THE OUTCOME WILL AFFECT THE LONG-TERM FINANCIAL HEALTH OF THE CITY.   As pointed out in Polidoro’s letter to the IDA, even if the IDA has authority to approve the application and the Applicant could demonstrate that additional parking spaces would be created, the Application lacks sufficient information on the Project’s finances. The Applicant alleges that the costs of constructing the parking garage total approximately $16.8 million which, after financing, would purportedly result in annual costs of $1,067,000 over 25 years. However, it is unclear if these cost estimates are accurate. The data supporting the Applicant’s calculation has not been publicly posted. The Council should request that the IDA release all data provided and engage an independent consultant to audit the Applicant’s estimated costs to determine their validity. If the agreement truly benefits the community, the data will prove it. 

8. NYS DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION INITIATIVE (DRI)  The applicant has said that if the PILOT is not approved, then the project will not go forward and the grant funds awarded to the Kingstonian project (or the entire amount, it isn’t clear) through NYS’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) grant will be revoked.  Has the city confirmed with the State that this is true? Could the grant funding for example, if not used for the Kingstonian project, be transferred to one of the unfunded grant projects proposed in the DRI application? 

RESCOURCES

READ: The Kingstonian PILOT – There is more at stake than just parking

Kingstonian PILOT: “Serious deficiencies in the application currently pending before the IDA”

Last evening, the City of Kingston and Ulster County Industrial Development Agency received a letter from Victoria L. Polidoro, Law Offices of Rodenhausen Chale & Polidoro LLP. Polidoro represents several property owners in Uptown, Kingston.

Some of the highlights:

The IDA is Not Authorized to Grant the Application

As a threshold matter the IDA does not have authority to consider or grant the Application for the Project which includes residential housing units. The IDA’s Housing Projects Policy, which was reaffirmed on January 8, 2020, only allows IDA financing it limited circumstances. It provides that:

A. The Agency will only consider the granting of any “financial assistance” (asdefined under the Act) for following projects that provide housing:

  1. (1)  a project that satisfies the definition of a continuing care retirement community project under Section 859-b of the Act; or
  2. (2)  a project by an industrial, manufacturing, warehousing, commercial,research and recreation facility (as defined in the Act) that provides workforce housing for its employees.

The Project will Result in a Loss of Public Parking Spaces

“Using a very conservative estimate, the minimum number of spaces needed to serve the Kingstonian is 313. The proposed parking garage with 420 parking spaces is not sufficient to replace the existing 144 public parking spaces and provide for the additional 313 parking spaces needed by the Project.1 The Project will therefore result in net loss of publicly available parking spaces.”

The Applicants’ Financial Analysis Is Insufficient

Even if the IDA had authority to approve the Application and the Applicant could demonstrate that additional parking spaces would be created, the Application lacks sufficient information on the Project’s finances. The Applicant alleges that the costs of constructing the parking garage total approximately $16.8 million, which, after financing, would purportedly result in annual costs of $1,067,000 over 25 years. However, it is not at all clear if these cost estimates are accurate. The data supporting the Applicant’s calculation has not been publicly posted. We request that the IDA release all data provided and engage an independent consultant to audit the Applicant’s estimated costs to determine their validity.

The IDA Should Not Consider the Application Until the Pending Article 78 is Resolved

The IDA should refrain from acting on the application until the pending SEQRA litigation is resolved, as any decision it makes may thereafter be invalidated.

An IDA Member May Have a Conflict of Interest

“However, even if this does not rise to the level of a formal conflict of interest under Article 4 of the New York State Public Officers Law, it at the very least creates the appearance of impropriety and weakens the public’s confidence in its government. Therefore, we request that this member of the IDA recuse himself from consideration of the present application.

Affordable Housing and the Kingstonian Project PILOT

CLICK TO WRITE  (be sure to add your name and municipality at the end and any other message that you wish to include):  Request that the Kingston Common Council and in particular, the Council’s Finance Committee demand that the Kingstonian developers provide affordable housing guarantees in their PILOT agreement. 

By Rebecca Martin

In our recent post about the Kingstonian PILOT, we reported on the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency’s (UCIDA) consideration of a $30.6 million tax subsidy to real estate developers in exchange for parking spaces. We shared our concerns that a subsidy of this size to the Kingstonian for parking spaces means significantly less money to invest in City schools, streets, public housing, and infrastructure. “It increases the likelihood that already overburdened taxpayers will be forced to cover any fiscal gap with increased school and property taxes.”  We demanded that a true value be placed on the developer’s PILOT before a public hearing is held so that the residents of Kingston are fully aware of the role they are being asked to play.   READ “The Kingstonian Project: There is more at stake than just parking”

The Kingstonian PILOT: Where the public good is a parking garage

It isn’t clear how to affix a value on what will become a privatized parking garage funded by public through subsidies. We’ve got nothing but questions.

  • How many municipal spots will there realistically be for the City of Kingston?
  • What will the fee structure look like?
  • What will community members be asked to pay?
  • Is the parking garage being built for the average Kingston community member or for those with the means to afford luxury apartments?
  • What would the fiscal benefits be if the PILOT was disallowed?
  • Would the revenue stream remain the same?
  • Could the City of Kingston conceivably be better off building its own parking garage for $30.6 million dollars? 

Affordable housing for now, but for how long and at what cost?

Part of what has been portrayed as a public good for the Kingstonian are the 14 affordable housing units that were included last fall after much outcry from the community. Even though the Area Median Income (AMI) is high (presumably determined by the Kingston-Poughkeepsie MSA or some other measurement beyond Ulster County), it’s good to have an affordable component added to the project.  

Typically, not-for-profits (NFP) who are working on affordable housing projects receive state tax credits and in return are bound by rules.  In some cases, those units can remain affordable for up to 50 years. As a private developer, the Kingstonian isn’t relying on the state and therefore, can use the “affordable housing” language without being bound by the same rules.

The PILOT agreement at this point is perhaps the only avenue to provide guarantees that prevent the affordable units from escalating in value. It could outline the units’ starting rent, their size and annual escalator rate.  Without that outlined somewhere, the Kingstonians “affordable housing” could become market rate at any given time. 

In a recent PILOT analysis completed for the City of Hudson by Joshua Simons of the Benjamin Center, the report highlights key variables and standards in the region. Although the project in Hudson is all affordable housing created by a foundation (apples to oranges here), we presume that if the Kingstonian project were to do the same kind of study for its PILOT it would prove to be an anomaly. 

As the terms of the Kingstonian PILOT are not yet fixed, now is the time that our decision-makers and the public can request a full disclosure of the true value of the PILOT (in order to avoid the developer inflating the public benefits) as well as a clawback provision and affordable housing guidelines.

Beyond that, what revenues do the Kingstonian developers stand to gain on luxury apartments over 25 years? Even thought he PILOT process is well underway, we don’t know as the information is deemed ‘trade secrets’ as are the sources of financing which the developer refuses to reveal. 

It’s impossible to understand why decision makers are not insisting on making all of the developer’s information public given the expectation of tens of millions in subsidies. Without it, we can’t be sure that the Kingstonian project would require a PILOT at all. 

RESOURCES

New York State Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program (SLIHC)    NYS tax credits for affordable housing

The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC)
Federal program for tax credits for affordable housing administered by the state

Image above provided by The Kingston News “Kingstonian: Listen to the Community” rally

FOIL or foiled?

The legislature hereby finds that a free society is maintained when government is responsive and responsible to the public, and when the public is aware of government actions. The more open a government is with its citizenry, the greater the understanding and participation of the public in government…

…The people’s right to know the process of governmental decision-making and to review the documents and statistics leading to determinations is basic to our society. Access to such information should not be thwarted by shrouding it with the cloak of secrecy or confidentiality. The legislature therefore declares that government is the public’s business and that the public, individually and collectively and represented by a free press, should have access to the records of government in accordance with the provisions of this article.

– from the Legislative Declaration of NYS’ Freedom of Information Law

By Giovanna Righini with Tanya Garment

In 1974, legislation was approved to enact the original Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) in New York State. For the first time, the general public was granted right of access to government records. The law plays an important role in keeping government transparent and accountable and speaks eloquently to this end in its Legislative Declaration.

The process that the public may follow to obtain records is laid out by the New York State Committee on Open Government (COOG). Their website provides a wealth of information, including sample letter templates, information on access to agency records, required time lines, and advisory opinions. Since FOIL is somewhat fluid and, like any law, is subject to interpretation, it requires a good faith effort by both the public and the government to work. The following story details a lack of that effort on the part of the City of Kingston.

On April 15, 2020, Tanya Garment submitted a FOIL request to the City of Kingston for any and all email and text communications between and among Mayor Noble and various specific City employees regarding the proposed merger of Department of Public Works with the Parks & Recreation Department and the Environmental Education and Sustainability Coordinator’s role and office location, from March 1 to April 14, 2020. She made the request in order to find instructions to staff that would help her to understand the steps of the proposed merger’s process, particularly because the proposal would have provided the Mayor’s wife with a job promotion and substantial pay increase.

VIEW 4.15 FOIL Request

On April 20, Tanya was contacted by the City Clerk who asked, on behalf of Kingston’s Corporation Counsel, if the FOIL request could be closed out since the proposed merger had died in Council Committee. Because the Clerk expressed concern about the amount of work it would take to review all the emails, Tanya initially agreed over the phone to retract her request. A few hours later, however, after she’d had time to think about it, Tanya decided she didn’t want to retract the full request but was willing to reduce the scope of it by narrowing the time frame to April 1 through April 14, 2020. She put this in writing to both the City Clerk and Corporation Counsel’s Secretary by email, left a voicemail to that effect for the City Clerk and spoke directly to the Secretary about it. The very next day, her full original request was denied.

Read more…

The Kingstonian PILOT: There is more at stake than just parking

Editorial

CLICK, SIGN AND SEND!  Demand that the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) require the Kingstonian applicant release financial data for independent assessment and to place a value on their PILOT request prior to any scheduled public hearing:   CLICK ON THIS LINK, SIGN AND SEND TO ALL DECISION MAKERS.  Please include your name, where you live and any additional message you’d like to include. 


What the Kingston community needs to know up front

The Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) this week considered a $30.6 million tax subsidy to real estate developers in exchange for 277 parking spaces. In the midst of a financial crisis, the substantial loss of $30.6 million in tax receipts will have a profound effect on the community. A subsidy to the Kingstonian real estate developers for parking spaces means less money to invest in City schools, streets, public housing, and infrastructure. It increases the likelihood that already overburdened taxpayers will cover any fiscal gap with increased school and property taxes. 

What happened at the July 8th Ulster County IDA Meeting Regarding the $57.8 million Kingstonian Project?

The specific agenda item on the Ulster County IDA docket involved the question of a deviated payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) request for the Kingstonian proposal, a $57.8 million dollar luxury apartment project in Uptown, Kingston. If granted, the Kingstonian investors pay for the value of what’s already there and not what they improve for the next 25 years. The estimated amount of the PILOT subsidy under consideration for a portion of a parking garage is roughly $30.6 million in addition to $6.8 million in tax-payer funded grants.  We have not seen a parking assessment (an estimate of how many parking spaces the project will actually need) nor do we know the true value of the PILOT request.

After the developer’s joint presentation with the Mayor of Kingston, the IDA expressed significant concerns, and sent the proposal back to the pre screening process.  The deviation and the delay will allow the developers to go back and discuss the PILOT agreement with the involved agencies (City of Kingston, Ulster County Legislature and Board of Education) to confirm their commitment before returning to the IDA board in August. If the IDA is satisfied with the progress at that point, they will schedule a public hearing.  In the meantime, without the release of vital financial information, the public is unable to assess the true value of the PILOT.  To date, neither the developers, the IDA nor the City of Kingston has agreed to release that financial information.

What’s the IDA and a deviated PILOT? How does it affect the Kingston Community?

Read more…

Kingston Board of Ethics Lacks Quorum For Several Months. Apply to Volunteer

By Rebecca Martin

In the City of Kingston, there are 25 committees, boards and commissions that provide opportunities for community members to serve on a range of topics. They include planning, zoning, water, the environment, fire, policing and – ethics.  One of the historical challenges with the appointments, however, has been a lack of transparency in the process overall, and particularly pertaining to appointment selection.

Kingston’s Charter allows for the Mayor to make all appointments without oversight.  To tip the scales further towards the executive branch, those appointments are guided by corporation counsel and, at times, City department heads – most of whom serve at the pleasure of the Mayor. We have witnessed the challenges that members have faced when seeking independence as a body in their decision making. Removal of members of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission in April of 2019

Early in Mayor Noble’s first term, he created an online application for attracting and recruiting volunteers for Kingston’s boards, commissions and committees. “All individuals interested in serving on a board, commission and/or committee must complete an application and submit it to the Mayor’s office for review. This information will be used in determining which individuals are best suited to serve, based on their qualifications, backgrounds, skills and interests. The purpose of this application process was to enable the City to recruit individuals who have a strong desire and ability to serve, but who may not have had the opportunity before.” 

Although the on-line application was a new approach, and intended to bring some clarity to a murky process, it didn’t address the lack of oversight to appointments.  It also lacks fundamental information and policies such as what vacancies there are, how many terms one can serve, what expertise the City might be looking for, the official response or response time to expect, what the renewal or removal process is or how many terms a community member is able to serve. 

Over the years, we have heard administrations complain of a lack of volunteers to choose from. But with the gaps illustrated above, it should come as no surprise.  We have also heard our current Mayor say that the City has an abundance of volunteers eager to serve and yet, vacancies remain. 

The most recent list of appointments show that some members of the community serve on multiple boards, committees and commissions and, although it lists term expirations, it does not provide information on how long the members have served.  We are aware that there are community members who have served for decades in the same seat (several of the Water Board members is a case in point). It illustrates that even the “updated” process maintains the status quo. 

As of February 2020, the Ethics Board had a vacancy to fill and terms expiring. The board has struggled to maintain a quorum and the last time they met was on March 3 (over three months ago).  As far as we can tell, the minutes from that meeting are still not posted on the City’s website even though the Committee on Open Government states that ”…minutes of meetings of all public bodies shall be available to the public in accordance with the provisions of the freedom of information law within two weeks from the date of such meeting”   In the case of membership missing consecutive meetings, what is the number of allowed absences before they are removed and replaced by a more readily available member of the community? 

According to the Charter, the Board of Ethics for the City of Kingston, “…shall consist of five members…The Corporation Counsel, or Assistant Corporation Counsel in his or her stead, shall serve as counsel to the Board of Ethics. In the event the Corporation Counsel identifies a conflict of interest, or a conflict of interest is identified in writing by the Board of Ethics, outside counsel shall be secured for the Board. There will be a budget line established and maintained for outside counsel in an amount of at least $10,000. Written retainer agreements shall be required for retention of services of outside counsel. Such retainer agreements shall be subject to the approval by the Mayor of the City of Kingston. In the event that the matter involves the Mayor or a member of his family or household as those terms are defined above, the Alderman at Large shall act in the Mayor’s place.”

Now is a good time to help the Board of Ethics meet its monthly quorum.  If you live in the City of Kingston, do not hold office in a political party or elective office in the city and are interested in assuring that Kingston’s elected and appointed officials are maintaining their responsibility to uphold the public trust, please apply (and request a response).

APPLY NOW

RESOURCES
Ethics board Rules and Regulations 

KingstonCitizens.org Request UCRRA to Remove BioHiTech Facility in Local Solid Waste Plan for Ulster County

By Rebecca Martin

On Monday, June 29 at noon, the Ulster County Recovery Resource Authority (UCRRA) will hold their monthly meeting. We have provided the following pubic comment.

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Dear Members of the UCRRA Board,

We wish to commend you for your hard efforts in creating a Local Solid Waste Plan for Ulster County.  From our early conversations with professionals, Ulster County and specifically UCRRA is seen as a leader on managing solid waste. 

However, in regard to the BioMass section of your document (page 111-112), we request that the board consider a resolution to remove the BioHiTech facility in Ulster County from its plan.  

Recently, we have learned about BioHiTech, a “Municipal Solid Waste Processing Facility” with a project that is now online in West Virginia and another currently under scrutiny in the City of Rensselaer. 

The proposed facility in the City of Rensselaer initially referred to itself as a “composting facility” in its Environmental Assessment Form for SEQR. Far from it.  As we understand it, this “emerging technology” produces Refuse-derived Fuel (RDF) by first collecting municipal waste. After removing any valuable metals, the plastic and fibers are dried and shredded into confetti.  They are then trucked away to cement plants where it is incinerated to supplement coal in creating energy. The remaining waste is dumped in unnamed landfills or garbage incinerators.

With a population of 9300 residents, the City of Rensselaer community is already shouldering four polluting facilities (a nearby massive asphalt receiving facility, the Rensselaer Cogeneration gas-fired power plant, a major Amtrak hub and the Dunn Construction and Demolition debris landfill (situated next to a pre-K to 12 public school) and across the river, Global oil terminal). “The proposed BioHiTech facility project, situated near a DEC potential environmental justice area, would be built on top of a capped toxic waste site, the former BASF property, where existing contamination affects the soil, groundwater, and nearby Hudson River.  It would accept constant shipments of municipal garbage. Trucks would make about 82 trips in and out of the facility every day, according to the applicant.” This would be tragic for Rensselaer.

So it is of great concern to us that in UCRRA’s most recent plan, it calls to contract a consulting firm to evaluate the possibility of permitting and constructing a local landfill or a BioHiTech Facility within Ulster County.

In section 7.11 Technology Selection, it says, “..three technologies have been selected to pursue in the 10-year planning period. Feasibility studies for siting a local landfill, installing a BioHiTech (biomass) Facility, and waste exportation by railroad will be conducted”

To be clear, we understand that to date, UCRRA has not included incineration as a solution to municipal solid waste within Ulster County. That’s wise given the history of environmental advocacy here, as the outcry would be fierce. Let it be known that we also do not support Ulster County engaging in incineration anywhere. 

On page 74, section 5.2.9 Local Environmental Justice it says,. “Environmental justice means the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Fair treatment means that no group of people, including a racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic group, should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state, local, and tribal programs and policies. Environmental justice, under the NYSDEC Policy 29 aims to enhance public participation and the review of environmental impacts from proposed construction of facilities in environmental justice communities, and to reduce disproportionate environmental impacts in overburdened communities.” 

If UCRRA is indeed concerned about Environmental Justice communities in Ulster County, then it should also be concerned in its role to potentially exploit communities outside of Ulster County, those who would bear the brunt of our shipment of shredded plastics and fiber for incineration. We encourage you to think hard about how you would feel if you and your family were living near an incinerator burning waste in general, and then the waste of those from another state. 

For all of these reasons, we request that the UCRRA board consider passing a resolution to remove BioHiTech from its current Local Solid Waste Management plan as a potential future option in Ulster County.

In addition, we sought advice from Neil Seldman and made a small donation to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance to review UCRRA’s 2011 and 2020 Local Solid Waste Plans and provide a memorandum to outline the pros and cons for Ulster County. All incineration plans are stated as “a very bad idea.”  He goes on to say that he “will not comment on this very outdated 20th century technology.” Most, if not all of us, are aware of Seldman’s work and hold him in high esteem. We are submitting the memorandum as an attachment to our public comment. 

RESOURCES

READ: Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency Local Solid Waste Management Plan

READ: Institute for Self Reliance Memorandum on Ulster County Local Solid Waste Plan

READ: Riverkeeper Opposes Waste Facility on the Hudson River in Rensselaer

Kingston Council Laws and Rules Committee Continue to Discuss the Executive Branch’s Decision to not Enforce “Building/Zoning” Law

By Rebecca Martin

In April, community members impacted by the proposed Irish Cultural Center (ICC) located at 32 Abeel Street in the Rondout co-authored a letter to the Common Council Laws and Rules Committee ostensibly asking, “Why does the City of Kingston have laws on its books that it won’t enforce?”   The letter was referring to a recent decision by the Building Safety and Code Enforcement Department guided by the Executive Branch’s Corporation Counsel in the City of Kingston, where it was determined that the ICC’s expired permit (the third since 2011) would not be upheld due to the city not having found  “… an instance of its usage” and that it would be “unfair to arbitrarily enforce said article by invalidating (the ICC’s) building permit.”

The Laws and Rules Committee took up the question at its May meeting where they decided to send an inquiry to the Director of Building Safety and Code Enforcement.  In an email, Chairman of the Council’s Laws & Rules Committee and Ward 1 Alderman Jeffrey Ventura-Morrell asked, “In your letter to the developers, you mentioned that you found no previous instance of its (the article’s) enforcement and therefore you determined that it would be unfair and arbitrary to enforce it in this instance. Can you please expand on why you reached that conclusion?”

The Director replied, “Following a review of a number of files, conversations with current staff and speaking with former inspectors, no one could remember an instance when a permit had been invalidated for this reason. Building Safety issued 1350 permits last year and we have no mechanism to alert us when each permit has reached the six months’ revocation limit. The recognition of a permit’s potential invalidation date is only the first step in the process. An actual inspection of the premises would be needed to verify the presence or absence of construction work. I am of the belief that this code, if strictly enforced, would overwhelm the capacity of the department and frankly is not necessary.”

What is notable here is that the Building Safety, with guidance from the Executive Branch’s Corporation Counsel, provided two explanations.  In his letter dated March 10 to the ICC, the law would not be upheld because the city hadn’t used it before and concluded that it would be unfair to the applicant if it were enforced.  In the June 2 reaction to the chair of the Laws and Rules Committee’s inquiry, the reason was because of a lack of mechanism to alert his department of the six month expiration for each permit that they have approved. 

It’s problematic for Kingston going forward, as enforcement of the law is critical. If the law is flawed, then it should be reformed.  Additionally, in the 21st century, technology must exist to provide a ‘mechanism’ that would allow the City of Kingston Building Department to assure compliance of all of its 1,350 approved building permits. (Note to City: Check out Airtable)

The City of Kingston’s Common Council Laws & Rules Committee will continue the discussion “Building / Zoning Laws” during their remote meeting on Wednesday, June 17th at 6:30pm.

Read more…

Local Women in Civics, Office, Academia are also Authors with New Book Releases in 2020

There are many great woman in our community who make important contributions to our daily civic lives, in office and academia. They are mothers, partners, friends and bread winners. They are also published authors.

Here are three favorites.

Dr. Lynn Eckert is a resident of Kingston and former Kingston Alderwoman and Ulster County Legislature. A political science professor at Marist College, Eckert holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Gettysburg College and a master’s degree from Temple University and a doctorate from The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. Eckert can also be heard on KingstonCitizens.org’s weekly roundtable program “What’s the Process” with Rebecca Martin and Jennifer Schwartz Berky.

Her book, Free Speech Law and the Pornography Debate: A Gender-Based Approach to Regulating Inegalitarian Pornography will be available more widely in July, 2020.

“By examining the highly contested legal debate about the regulation of pornography through an epistemic lens, this book analyzes competing claims about the proper role of speech in our society, pornography’s harm, the relationship between speech and equality, and whether law should regulate and, if so, upon what grounds. In maintaining that inegalitarian pornography generates discursive effects, the book contends that law cannot simply adopt a libertarian approach to free speech. While inegalitarian pornography may not be determinative of gender inequality, it does contribute, reinforce, reflect and help maintain such unfairness. As a result, we can place reasonable gender-based regulations on inegalitarian pornography while upholding our most treasured commitments to dissident speech just as other liberal democracies with strong free speech traditions have done. ”

Dr. JoAnne Myers serves on the board of the Ulster County Recovery Resource Authority (UCRRA), is a commissioner on the Ulster County Human Rights Commission and Vice President of the board of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center. Myers is an Associate Professor of Political Science; Political Science Internship Coordinator; Director of Public Administration Concentration at Marist College.

Her new book “The Good Citizen: The Markers of Privilege in America” was released in early 2020.

“Using applied political theory, JoAnne Myers presents five markers by which citizens become second-class citizens―property, productivity, participation, patriotism, and reproduction. Citizenship is a highly contested status since it grants members political rights and responsibilities. It is contextualized by cultural, political, historical, economic, situational, and place. In the United States, we think of citizenship in principle as democratic, but citizenship is not just a binary status: norms, policies, and laws can mark some citizens as “other.” In The Good Citizen: The Markers of Privilege in America, Myers argues that being marked as not having or achieving these markers is how citizenship is controlled and regulated. To illustrate this argument, each chapter begins with a practical question or myth to ease the reader into the marker being examined. She later articulates the ways in which law and norms and biopower regulates and controls citizens in three policy areas. Myers moves beyond theories of citizen marginalization based on identity politics and intersectionality to provide a new understanding of citizenship practice. The Good Citizen will be of interest to scholars and researchers of politics, sociology, or legal studies of citizenship, and anyone concerned with distributive justice.”

KT Tobin lives in New Paltz and is the Deputy Mayor of the Village. She is responsible for designing, managing, and producing Benjamin Center projects focused on regional issues and concerns. Before returning to work at her alma mater SUNY New Paltz in 2008, she was the Assistant Director at the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. Tobin holds an M.S. in Social Research from CUNY Hunter and a Ph.D. in Sociology from SUNY Albany. Her dissertation research, entitled “Gender: Impacts on Participation in Local Government,” studied elected women in the Mid-Hudson region.

Her recent collaboration “Suffrage and Its Limits: The New York Story” will be available in September, 2020.

“Suffrage and Its Limits offers a unique interdisciplinary overview of the legacy and limits of suffrage for the women of New York State. It commemorates the state suffrage centennial of 2017, yet arrives in time to contribute to celebrations around the national centennial of 2020. Bringing together scholars with a wide variety of research specialties, it initiates a timely dialogue that links an appreciation of accomplishments to a clearer understanding of present problems and an agenda for future progress. The first three chapters explore the state suffrage movement, the 1917 victory, and what New York women did with the vote. The next three chapters focus on the status of women and politics in New York today. The final three chapters take a prospective look at the limits of liberal feminism and its unfinished agenda for women’s equality in New York. A preface by Lieutenant Governor Katherine Hochul and a final chapter by activist Barbara Smith bookend the discussion. Combining diverse approaches and analyses, this collection enables readers to make connections between history, political science, public policy, sociology, philosophy, and activism. This study moves beyond merely celebrating the centennial to tackle women’s issues of today and tomorrow.”

KingstonCitizens.org launches roundtable program called “What’s the Process?”

The local volunteer community group, established in 2006, will host a weekly roundtable program to help provide City of Kingston and Ulster County residents processes relevant to local issues.

Kingston, NY – KingstonCitizens.org will launch a new weekly program “What’s the Process” on Sundays at 5:00 pm.  The first in the series will air on Sunday,  May 3 at 5:00pm on KingstonCitizens.org’s Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/KingstonCitizens/ with a discussion on remote public meetings, the basics of the Open Meetings Law, and the Governor’s Executive Order guaranteeing the public’s right to continued access to their government during the COVID-19 crisis.

The program will be recorded and broadcast each week and will tackle local City of Kingston and Ulster County topics with a range of guests. Co-hosts include co-founder and Director of KingstonCitizens.org Rebecca Martin, Associate Professor of Political Science at Marist College and KingstonCitizens.org advisory board member Dr. Lynn Eckert and urban planner and KingstonCitizens.org co-founder and advisory board member Jennifer Schwartz Berky.  The three women bring a combined 60 years of experience in municipal, county, state and federal government procedure and process.

“I don’t think there has ever been a more important moment, at least in my lifetime, to have a place for discussion of local issues and their processes as well as to provide opportunities for different points of view.” said Rebecca Martin. “With many of our local papers struggling to stay afloat, our regular program can provide insights and nuances so community members can understand how to be effective in their civic engagement efforts.  “What’s the process?” or “Where are we in the process?” are questions that I would like every community member in Ulster County to grow accustomed to asking their elected and appointed officials.  I think we can help with that.”

“We need thoughtful, in-depth discussion of the local policy decisions that affect our lives and community now more than ever.” Dr. Lynn Eckert said. “Those in power think that we’re not watching and that they can behave in ways that abuse their position. We need to stay focused on solutions that are in the public good while holding those accountable who are engaged in petty or vindictive actions or feel-good symbolic statements. Real substantive political change takes hard work, not self-promotion, and it involves a constellation of community members, not just elected officials, party leaders or select activists. It takes all of us.” 

“KingstonCitizens.org was founded over 10 years ago to help fill a void in our community. People across the political spectrum and diverse walks of life told us they felt left out of the process. They didn’t understand how to engage with local government or make their voices heard,” said Jennifer Schwartz Berky. “In the past decade, we have seen a powerful change in the public’s engagement in Kingston and Ulster County. KingstonCitizens.org has been a force for generating greater transparency in local and county government and growing the ranks of our informed, engaged community. This new program will continue to help fill that void in these challenging times.” 

For more information, please sign-up for KingstonCitizens.org newsletter http://eepurl.com/gYWIan or contact rebecca@kingstoncitizens.org

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About KingstonCitizens.org  Established in 2006, KingstonCitizens.org is a non-partisan, grassroots, volunteer organization committed to nurturing transparency in local government through citizen engagement and participation.  

About Rebecca Martin   A native of Maine, Martin co-founded KingstonCitizens.org in 2006 to understand the inner workings of her new hometown’s local government and to create a platform for citizen engagement. Since then, she has organized more than 100 different initiatives and projects, including serving as ‘ground zero’ for information and civic engagement during the Niagara Bottling Company’s attempt to purchase a significant share of Kingston’s municipal water supply.  KingstonCitizens.org later advocated for a Water Powers Referendum, which amended Kingston’s City Charter that passed by a landslide. Martin previously served as Executive Director of the Kingston Land Trust where she led the non-profit group’s Urban Agriculture initiatives, Kingston’s Rail Trail Committee and programming, and an effort to protect African-American history and burial grounds in the City of Kingston. As a musician, Martin tours the world performing her original music. Since 2017,  Martin has worked for Riverkeeper and is currently Campaign Manager for the Water Quality Program.

About Lynn Eckert  Dr. Lynn Eckert is a political science professor at Marist College in Poughkeepsie.  She earned a bachelor’s degree from Gettysburg College in 1992 and a doctorate from The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in 2001.  Eckert is also a former Alderwoman serving Ward 1 in the City of Kingston, NY and Ulster County Legislator.   Her partner is Amy Eckert, a writer, and they have three children, Raymond, Lucy and Ella.

About Jennifer Schwartz Berky  Jennifer has lived in the Hudson Valley since 2004, where she has worked with numerous communities and organizations to plan and implement projects in historic sites and neighborhoods. Prior to this, she was a cultural heritage specialist and planner at the World Bank, where she was involved with World Heritage sites and cities and community-driven development programs in over 30 places abroad. Jennifer was also a design and construction project manager for many historic buildings and cultural institutions in her native New York City.  She has Masters’ degrees from Columbia University in Urban Planning and Real Estate Development, a BA in Art History from SUNY Stony Brook, and studied conservation at UNESCO’s ICCROM program in Rome, Italy.  She is fluent in French, Italian and Spanish.  In addition to her work as a planner and historic preservationist, Jennifer has an active civic life as a county legislator, leader, volunteer, and board member in numerous community and sustainable development organizations. 

Police Accountability Resolution Resolves Little

Editorial Board 

At the next Laws and Rules Committee meeting on April 15, council members will be considering a long list of complicated and important legislation. One is a police accountability memorializing resolution, itself the result of a long and challenging process.  Its complainant-sounding language has sparked a host of questions for us:  How were all stakeholders identified and engaged to bring us to this point? Who was at the table and was there consensus? Who was responsible for crafting the memorializing resolution language? 

Back in January, newly elected council president Andrea Shaut created a special policing committee led by Alderwoman Rita Worthington, D-Ward 4, and joined by Rennie Scott-Childress, D-Ward 3 and Alderman Jeffrey Ventura Morell, D-Ward 1. The three lawmakers would be given time to delve into matters relating to policing more deeply before sending their research and information to the council’s Laws and Rules Committee and ultimately, to the full council for any formal action.

Right now, we have a tenuous public safety situation in Kingston. The most efficient way to handle policing legislation or reform is to bring all the parties to the table, having them speak to one another in constructive ways. Has that been done? There are already points of agreement. While no one meeting will resolve the complex nexus of issues at play, a continued, ongoing, purposeful dialogue would decrease tensions and build a stronger community. We have already had some community meetings but the most productive kinds of dialogues would involve a skilled moderator/facilitator steeped in knowledge about the complex relations between the police and communities of color. 

The incident at the center of the outrage in Kingston may stem from an incident in 2015 (prior to most of our current council members that are in office today) when police wrongly arrested a young man on the suspicion that he knocked over a cyclist. The situation escalated when one officer approached the man who became nervous and began recording the interaction. The interaction intensified culminating with the officers tasing the young man multiple times while arresting him. When arriving at the police station, officers realized that the man did not commit the crime. Despite his innocence, the police charged the man with obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest. A jury later convicted him of that first charge and he was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge. A later investigation by the Police Commission found that both officers involved in the incident followed procedures. 

The incident described leaves out one contextual issue crucial to understanding the anger, distrust and resentment that lingers in the aftermath of the incident. The young man was black while the police officers were white. Some will argue that race has nothing to do with determining the culpability of the officers while others will say that it is the dispositive issue. 

We all operate within an historical context, one we can’t change and shouldn’t ignore. Given the history of the United States, it is unfortunately a deeply racist context in which we live. Racism is structural meaning that despite the best intentions of individuals, we inherit norms, institutions, rules, and material conditions that shape an unequal landscape where blacks and whites are treated differently: they are perceived differently and punished differently. We can understand that racist structure and fight against it but not without a recognition of the unequal racist history that acts as an albatross around all of our necks.     

The concept of implicit bias tells us that despite our best conscious intentions, we discriminate against people of color in unintended and unconscious ways. We may not desire to discriminate, and indeed, when conscious we may actively fight against racism. Implicit bias occurs when we are forced to make split second judgements of the sort that override and preempt conscious, deliberative thought. Once more, we are all subject to the invisible mechanisms of implicit bias irrespective of our race, gender, sexual orientation or class. Jesse Jackson sadly recognized the effects of implicit bias on himself when recounting the fear he experienced at seeing two young black men in hoodies walking behind him. Later, he realized that he too was part of the very culture that perpetuated racism even as he attempted to dismantle it. When people suggest that it is impossible to not be racist in American society, they are relying, in part, upon the notion of implicit bias. As we know, there are plenty of people who are consciously and proudly racist. Nonetheless, if the concept of implicit bias is operative, even those of us who strive to dismantle racial injustice contribute to it. 

The outrage over the tasing incident is fair and should be acknowledged. The results of the police commission investigation—where they cleared the officers involved in the Kingston incident of wrongdoing—has led to this festering of distrust and anger. Our political leadership hasn’t helped redirect the anger toward positive ends either.  

But to say all police are bad is as unfair as to say that all advocates are good. In fact, we have some advocates in Kingston who seem more intent on feeding the anger without supplying the requisite skill, knowledge and fortitude to resolve problems that are rooted in the City Charter. We also have a mayor who abdicated his moral responsibility in speaking out against the criminal charge or creating a more proactive police commission.

Our leaders need to create a space—a context—in which to have a directed, purposeful discussion, one that recognizes the role of structural racism as well as the fear that this young man must have felt knowing his innocence yet dealing with officers who thought they’d caught the “bad guy”. The young man at the center of this incident knew the history of police relations with the African-American community. He genuinely feared for his life. All police officers need to understand that fear: they need to acknowledge that white and black bodies have different histories and differing collective understandings based upon their lived experiences. 

At the same time, most of our officers risk their lives and strive to operate in the public interest. As a community, our first step should be toward understanding what occurred, why it occurred, correcting harms, and creating a system that does better. Attempting to understand this 2015 incident is complex and nuanced. Contradictory elements simultaneously swirl as we try to come to grips with structural racism, a community’s legitimate historical fear of the police, and officers who are genuinely committed to doing good. 

Nor should we conflate a critique of these particular police actions with a dislike or disregard for the Kingston police force. On the contrary, critiquing this incident is a sign of respect given the serious and vital role that police officers play in our society. We critique because we respect them enough to engage in an arduous communal activity and out of an acknowledgement of the noble and substantial role that they perform. 

In Kingston, we need more leaders to acknowledge that the way this young man was treated was an injustice. The fact that officers may not have violated police regulations in dealing with this young man doesn’t mean that no harm was done to him or that they couldn’t have tried to de-escalate. Nor does it mean that we don’t have to change our policies so that this doesn’t happen again. At the same time, the police risk their lives for us everyday. We appreciate and respect their efforts, but sometimes they get it wrong, and when they do, we should redress the harm. Police officers are under enormous stress and often make split-second decisions that can cost or save lives, including their own. They are called into situations to protect and defend the vulnerable. Under such stressful circumstances, mistakes can be made and better options overlooked. 

Without a statement acknowledging the anger and unfairness that many Kingston residents experience, we now have even greater distrust and resentment. Pretending that nothing unfair occurred has made a bad situation even worse, where no one group feels heard or respected. We need to balance the sense of racial injustice felt by many residents of Kingston with the police officers who feel that they are disrespected even as they risked their lives to help others. 

We purposely have avoided mentioning the names of the young man and the officers involved in the 2015 incident that is described above. While each will seek individual justice, the incident also tells us something important about us all as a community. We need to reflect upon how to do better. Do we need to make changes to the charter to allow for a more robust and transparent police commission, one that seeks to hear from community members and police officers in a way that upholds fairness and due process? We do. So why settle for a memorializing resolution on policing?  The hard work begins with dialogue and ends with real institutional change through amending the charter. To amend the charter is long, arduous and complex, but it’s time. 

ADDITIONAL READING: “The Need for Charter Reform becomes Obvious and Urgent

Victory Over Proposed Athens Construction and Demolition Waste Facility

Project abandoned but other fights loom for neighbors up and down the Hudson River

Courtesy of Keep It Greene

ATHENS, NY—March 20, 2020  Yesterday, the Division of Materials Management Officer at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) confirmed that Athens Stevedoring and Environmental Development LLC had withdrawn its application for a proposed Construction and Demolition waste processing facility in the Village of Athens and was no longer interested in pursuing the project.

The project had only recently come to light when, in January 2020, Keep It Greene member and Athens resident Diana Abadie made an unnerving discovery. “There’s a spot right on the Hudson River adjoining the boat dock where I often drink my morning coffee,” Diana recalls. “I noticed a for sale sign and when I called, the owner of the property told me that he was selling to a barge and trucking company.”

A series of Freedom of Information Law requests revealed specific plans to import 8,400 tons of Construction & Demolition Debris (C&DD) waste per week that would be stored, processed (i.e. crushed and sorted), and then exported by hundreds of trucks six days a week from a 6.1 acre waterfront site in the Village. Keep It Greene worked with Friends of Athens, KingstonCitizens.org, Hudson Riverkeeper, and the Village of Athens Mayor and Board of Trustees to inform the community and encourage them to organize. After an outpouring of support from the public (an online petition garnered over 2,000 signatures in only two weeks) and support from State Assemblymember Chris Tague (R) and Congressman Antonio Delgado (D), Athens Stevedoring withdrew its application and abandoned the project.

“I am very proud of how our entire community came together to make their voices heard,” said Village of Athens Mayor Stephan Bradicich.  “I have no doubt that the large and unified opposition to this project played a large part in stopping the effort.”

Although the threat to Athens may have passed, the neighboring Town of Catskill is confronting another C&DD project from Peckham Industries: an unlined landfill on the shoreline of the Hudson River that would receive 600,000 tons of waste. Although Peckham’s application to the DEC was recently returned as incomplete, the community anxiously awaits further developments.

According to Geologist David Walker, Ph.D of Keep It Greene, it’s no coincidence that these two similar projects landed in the same vicinity. “Athens and Catskill are just pieces of a larger puzzle. There are idle quarries along the Hudson River awaiting some new purpose, and New York City is the source of an enormous C&DD waste stream (twice the tonnage of its municipal waste). With barging cheaper than trucking to transport tons of materials and the Hudson Valley located closer to New York City than alternative sites, such as Seneca Meadows or Rensselaer, the area has been—and will continue to be—targeted for many more of these projects.”

In the weeks and months ahead, the coalition of environmental and community activists who fought the Athens C&D project plans to reach out to other communities fighting similar battles. “Instead of playing ‘Whack-a-Mole’ as these threats arise, we need to organize and push for proactive, comprehensive C&D waste management,” says Catherine Censor, president of Friends of Athens.

It’s a strategy that Paul Gallay, president of Riverkeeper, endorses. “The system worked here because these communities got the facts and got active. This should give everyone in the Hudson River watershed the confidence to fight misbegotten projects like these in their own communities.”

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About Keep It Greene and Friends of Athens

Keep It Greene: A non-partisan, grassroots, volunteer organization located in Greene County, NY.

Friends of Athens: A 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to historic preservation, civic improvement, and beautification of the natural and cultivated landscape in and around the Village of Athens, New York.