By Rebecca Martin
On Wednesday, January 20 at 9:00am, the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA) is poised to vote on the Kingstonian project deviated payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT), an unprecedented 25-year, $20+ million dollar deferment (and in the school district’s case, a loss) of property tax for luxury housing in the City of Kingston’s historic stockade district.
In July of 2020, the developer publicly unveiled their 100% tax exempt PILOT that at that time was valued at over $30.6 million dollars (that includes the PILOT and other public funding sources) in exchange for a parking garage. Although the developers and members of the Kingston Common Council insisted that there wasn’t any wiggle room to improve the project or PILOT conditions, after much effort and advocacy by the public, the developer added 14 affordable units, a couple of public bathrooms and reduced the amount slightly that is deferred over time.
READ: “The road paved by a $30.6 million dollar Kingstonian PILOT (in exchange for a parking garage): A timeline and next steps in October 2020
The request went out to the three impacted agencies for their consent that included the City of Kingston, Ulster County Legislature and Kingston City School District. Although the City of Kingston (8-0) and the Ulster County Legislature (17-6) approved the PILOT agreement, the school board, which represents 60% of the impacted taxpayers throughout Ulster County, rejected the proposal (6-3).
One of the things that we learned throughout this process were the negative impacts that a PILOT has on school districts. In a recent article called “Strife over tax breaks and tradeoffs: It doesn’t have to be like this” by The Benjamin Center (penned by Robin Jacobowitz with KT Tobin and Josh Simons) the author, a graduate of Colgate University with a BA in Education, a Masters in Education Policy from Harvard University and Doctorate of Philosophy, Education policy, Organization Theory and Qualitative Research from NYU, the Director of Education Programs at The Benjamin Center and an elected trustee of the Kingston City School District Board of Education wrote, “Public schools are dependent on property taxes for the majority of their funding. When an entity does not pay its full share of property taxes, that burden does not go away; unless cuts are made, costs get shifted onto other taxpayers. So when a PILOT is granted to a developer everyone else has to pay more. And even in an instance where a PILOT might contribute more than was being paid by the pre-PILOT property, that property is still not paying its full share.”
THE UCIDA’S CLEVER “HOUSEKEEPING”
Meanwhile, the UCIDA released their AGENDA for next week that revealed more concerns.
There appear to be two different items that can trigger a multi-agency review such as what occurred with the Kingstonian PILOT. The first is a deviation from the Uniform Tax Exemption Policy (UTEP) and the second, the inclusion of housing. Notice that on page 27-28 of the agenda, Resolution No. 1020 changes the housing policy so that the UCIDA doesn’t need all taxing entities’ concurrence.
The UCIDA could perhaps override the other agencies on the deviation. But when they added in the opportunity to fund any housing project in the housing policy last summer, they required agreement of all agencies.
During their recent governance meeting (and two hour executive session) they must have changed the housing policy (again) to have the same language as the UTEP for the PILOT deviation, sneaking it in under the heading “housekeeping” by adding an “F” after the “E” in the Schedule A (see header photo).
Furthermore, the authority for an IDA to even fund housing appears to be a complicated question. The state authorizing legislation for IDAs doesn’t clearly allow IDA support for housing. According to sources, the courts have, over time, considered certain housing projects to qualify if the project “promises employment opportunities and prevents economic deterioration”. Is the UCIDA giving itself the authority to support any housing and does it have the power to do that? Perhaps it is why, in the resolution approving the Kingstonian PILOT, that they do a little dance defining the project as “commercial”.
I guess we’ll have to see what the board members do on Wednesday and when this is over, we hope that our elected officials – with much public pressure – use this most unpleasant experience to deeply scrutinize the UCIDA’s practices.
The UCIDA meets on Wednesday at 9:00am. Please visit their WEBSITE to learn how you can view their meeting and participate.