Tuesday, May 25, 2010

News That Matters - Corporate Welfare, Putnam Style

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Good Tuesday Morning. Again,

If I were a better writer and could match the skills of even the most middling of authors, life in Putnam County would make quite excellent reading. But so few publishers would believe what I had written as genuine they'd have to place my book in the fiction section of bookstores and the fantasy section of libraries. But I can assure you that what we experience here as residents is real and genuine even though it reads - and too often feels - as if we're living in a 1950's Central American Banana Republic. In only a very few other places around the world, perhaps in one of those central Asian "stans" no one can pronounce, could we write about the depths of malfeasance that passes for government in our bucolic 240 square miles. If Voltaire or Shalom Aleichem were alive today even they could not have surpassed the fantastical mysteries and ironies that abound in our every day lives. Welcome to Putnam County, New York.

Tomorrow evening, Wednesday, May 26th, at 7PM in Room 318 of the County Office building, the Putnam County Legislature's Physical Services Committee will meet to discuss the creation of a "Road Improvement District" that largely incorporates properties owned by Ridgefield, CT resident Paul Camarda and his Patterson Crossing project with the intersection of New York State Route 311 and Interstate highway 84 being the focus. The district would allow Mr. C to build necessary traffic improvements to assist in minimizing the expected impact of the ~400,000 square foot mega-project with the added benefit that the county would reimburse his costs through tax credits applied to the expected sales tax revenues generated in a recovering economy.

I spoke to a county legislator yesterday afternoon who prefers to remain anonymous, who said that the project was sold as repairing an immediate environmental calamity of some sort. I thought, stormwater. Okay, well, both the state and the Federal government are MS4's in their own right and according to the law must perform remediation actions on their own conveyances and that this was not the responsibility of a private developer doing so on the county's dime.

Seeing the logic in that, the focus shifted to safety concerns. 'I've heard', the Legislator said, ' that this is a dangerous intersection and the state said they will not fund repairs.' Okay, I said back, then you sue the state using regular channels to have that problem resolved but it's not something that should be done by a private developer on the county dime.

Do you see a recurring pattern here?

Here's what the bill says, in part:
From Section 1: It is hereby found and determined that residential and commercial development in the vicinity of the Route 311 and I-84 intersection, Putnam county, has resulted in such intersection being inadequate to efficiently serve the needs of the residents of the county... and decreasing the attractiveness of the surrounding parcels for development that certain improvements to the Route 311 and I-84 intersection ingress and egress ramps are essential...
If you read further down this article you'll find that it is these very improvements that Patterson Crossing needs to make in order to meet the requirements set by the FEIS and his approvals for construction and that he has agreed to fund - in full.

From Section 3, in part:
The county of Putnam shall provide for a credit for the value of work performed or financed by a property owner within the road or highway improvement district or districts or benefited area or areas for the work as described in section one this act [sic]. Agreement for the provision of such credit shall be set forth in a written instrument of understanding between Putnam County and the property owner and documented in some other permit, approve site plan or official finding issued by Putnam County or the town of Patterson.
The following parcels are affected:
22.-3-1 containing 39.4 acres. Owner: Patterson Crossing Realty
33.-2-23 containing 33.96 acres. Owner: Patterson Crossing Realty
34.-2-3 containing 4.31 acres. Owner: Patterson Crossing Realty

22.-2-48 containing 16 acres. Owner: Patterson Crossing Realty

You can download and read the latest version of the bill here. (PDF)
A loose poll of Legislative members shows that if the committee passes a positive recommendation on to the full Legislature which will meet in special session immediately after, that there are at the very least 5 votes in favor of what amounts to millions of dollars in corporate welfare granted by a Republican Legislature who claims to be fiscally conservative and is always condemning Democrats for taxing and spending. How is this different? Well, when Republicans do it it's economic development and public safety. When Democrats do it, it's creeping socialism.

The truth is that in this economy, when property taxes are breaking the backs of homeowners and the newspapers are filled with pages of foreclosure notices, that raising taxes to pay for a privately owned development is probably not the best way to go.

Raising taxes? Sure! That's what's being proposed here. If the county offsets millions in expected revenues (via credits to the developer) those dollars still have to come from somewhere before they find their way into the county budget and if they're not coming from Patterson Crossing where will they come from? That's right... from your pocket. Isn't it enough that our county has the highest sales tax rate in the state? Some of the highest school tax levies in the nation? Why would the County Legislature insist that you, and not a private developer, bear that burden for highway projects that he has been mandated to complete? Why are we compensating him for this? And most important, what gets into the heads of our legislators that allows them to believe we will go along with this?

What will happen is that the county will propose this law which then goes to Albany for passage where such local laws are so routinely accepted that it's hard to believe anyone even reads them. Odds are the Ballster will vote against it, riding his wave of teabaggery while Ms. Galef and Senator Leibell will pass it without a thought as being a 'local issue'.

Well, let's take a quick look at Patterson Crossing and what the developer is supposed to do in order to have received his approvals...

Hey! It's amazing! The developer is supposed to mediate traffic problems that just happen to fall within the geographical boundaries of this new special traffic district and he's supposed to do so on his own dime.

From Camarda Development's website about the project they have this:
Center will pay for the vast majority of high-cost road and stormwater improvements needed to address existing problems
I'll grant that it's in the small print and is the very last line on the page, but as of this writing (8:44AM) it's there and the language is clear. "Center will pay...."

In the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the project dated July 17, 2008 and available here (PDF), we read the following:
The FEIS has identified several improvements that will be completed by the Project Sponsor [emphasis, mine] to mitigate the increase in traffic resulting from the retail center including:

• NYS Route 311 at the Project entrance would be improved with right and left turn lanes and a new traffic signal;
• At the Fair Street/NYS Route 311 intersection the curb radii will be widened;
• At the NYS Route 311/Interstate 84 Westbound ramp a left turn lane, off-ramp turn lane, signalization and queue detection will be added; and
• At the NYS Route 311/Interstate 84 Eastbound ramp a left turn lane, off-ramp turn lane, signalization and queue detection will be added.
The document then says to check out Appendix K where these issues are better spelled out. So, from Appendix K we read the following:
DEIS Suggested
Revised Improvement Program
Responsible Party

1. NYS Route 311 and NYS Route 164
Add NYS Route 311 right and left turn lanes. Signalize
Revise Geometrics
NYS DOT and Applicant

2. NYS Route 311 and Fair Street
Signalize and Add Fair Street right turn lane
Widen curb radii on Fair Street (see FEIS figure K-1)
Applicant and County

4. NYS Route 311 and Westbound Ramp I-84
Signalize, add NYS Route 311 left land and off-ramp turn lane
Signalize, add NYS Route 311 left turn lane (Figure K-3) or roundabout

5. NYS Route 311 and Eastbound Ramp I-84
Signalize, add NYS Route 311 left lane and off-ramp turn lane
Signalize, ad NYS Route 311 left turn land and off-ramp turn lake (Figure K-3) or roundabout

10. NYS Route 52 and Barrett Hill Road
Add NYS Route 52 left turn lane. Add NYS Route 52 center turn lake
Left turn lane on TIP post 2010/Signalize
NYS DOT/Applicant

13. NYS Route 311 and Access Road
Signalize/Add NYS Route 311 right turn lane
Signalize/Add NYS Route 311 left and right turn lane (Figure K-4)
There are other traffic and flow improvements outlined with some of those falling on the county's shoulders.

I'm willing to bet we'll hear long-winded speeches from those in favor of this welfare program talking about safety and economic development and partnerships and the like but what they're really doing is couching a multi-million dollar corporate welfare scam in nice words that polls show the public salivates for.

Members of the Physical Services Committee include, Mary Ellen O'Dell, Vincent Tamagna and Richard Othmer with at least two of those members already in favor and one leaning heavily in that direction. And while I have the personal emails of pretty much everyone on the Legislature, to protect their privacy it's best to write to them at their county address: putcoleg@putnamcountyny.com

Please write. Then come to the meeting tomorrow night and voice your opinion. Then be prepared to work against and vote against those legislators whether at the State level of here in Pumpkin County who would support this corporate welfare plan.

Corporate Welfare, Putnam Style.

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