Thursday, February 21, 2008

Robbing Peter to pay Paul...

Back on January 30, 2008, the town, school and county made a presentation regarding the planned New Hartford Business Park and the PILOT/TIF package that was put together so that "public improvements" could be paid for from the PILOT payments.

Part of that presentation was a slide that showed just where the money would come from. Part of the money, almost half a million, is supposedly going to come from Fees in Lieu of Mitigation. The number on their slide was $478,000 to be exact.

That's a mighty big number so Concerned Citizens thought that perhaps we should inquire as to just where those Fees In Lieu of Mitigation (FILM) were originally slated to be used (in other words, what developer actually paid those fees and for what project). So after returning home from the presentation on January 30, 2008, we FOILed the information. We thought since the dollar amount was right there in black and white, how difficult could it be to get the information from the town; Highway Superintendent Roger Cleveland spoke pretty convincingly at the presentation when questions were asked about the FILM monies.

However, since we sent our FOIL request, we have been trading emails with the town clerk. As you can see by reading the emails, it would appear that the town is pretending to be "clueless" as to what we are talking about.

Today, we get another email:
The Bookkeeper is making copies now. They will be available for review/purchase after 10 AM February 22, 2008.
Making copies...copies of what? We didn't ask for copies of ALL Fees in Lieu of Mitigation Accounts; we asked for information regarding the specific accounts that are being diverted to the New Hartford Business Park project. In other words, the information we receive should first of all total $478,000; the amount the town would like us to believe is already available and will not need to be added to the $2.9 million BAN.

Once again, so as not to jump to conclusions, we send off another email making it perfectly clear what we are looking for and offering to send a copy of the slide to the town clerk's office if that will help to clarify things.

Why is this important? Fees in Lieu of Mitigation are paid by developers to alleviate any potential problems as the result of their development such as traffic flow, stormwater, etc. If a developer has paid those fees, the money can't be used to mitigate problems caused by another developer; otherwise, there is no money available to address any problems that are caused by the developer that paid the fees. There are a few other points to be made regarding FILM money, but we will save that for another time.

At this point, we can only conclude that either:

1. The money that the town is planning to divert to the New Hartford Business Park project in order to make the "numbers work" is actually money that should not be used and the town wants to keep it hush, hush so the developers who gave the money don't find out.

2. There really are no Fees in Lieu of Mitigation monies that can legally be used and taxpayers will actually be making up the additional $478,000 in the form of taxes. In other words, it was only added to the equation to make it look more appetizing to the taxpayers.

3. We suspect that if the $478,000 is added to the BAN that will be used to finance "the project", in other words they actually BAN for the whole $3.4 million needed, the assumptions they used will not work.
This PILOT/TIF plan is based on a lot of assumptions; if any of the assumptions are incorrect or any of the anticipated monies are "fabricated", the cost of this project will directly affect all taxpayers. When town officials cannot or will not back up statements made in a public presentation and taxpayer dollars are involved, it is time to start asking some "serious" questions; getting honest answers to those questions is the right of every single resident in the Town of New Hartford and should be the expectation.

This town board has a track record for not being entirely truthful; hopefully, this time they will prove us wrong and the information will be forthcoming in answer to our FOIL request.

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