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Mon., Aug. 31
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Tensions rise between Chason Affinity & school board


POTSDAM - Board of education member Wade A. Davis again lobbied fellow board members to either accept or reject the proposed payment in lieu of taxes agreement for a student housing development slated to be built across from the SUNY Potsdam campus.

But the board did not vote on the proposal, despite the efforts of Mr. Davis and David F. Fedack, a consultant working for Chason Affinity, who told the board they would be better off accepting the PILOT than with the alternative.

“The PILOT agreement gives you a better tax base over time than if we took our chances and said we’ll take what you give us,” Mr. Fedack said, explaining a tax consultant evaluated the 50-cottage development and said it should be assessed for $3.5 million.

That assessment, he said, is in accordance with New York state taxation law.

However, as eight months of PILOT negotiations dragged on, the agreed upon assessment in Potsdam eventually ended up at $5.5.

“We think what we’ve proposed after eight months of negotiations is actually better for you,” he said. “You can base your budget on that.”

“If it is cheaper for the taxes without the PILOT, why do you want the PILOT?” asked board of education member J. Patrick Turbett.

“It gives certainty to our lenders,” Mr. Fedack said.

Mr. Fedack also said that should their PILOT agreement not be accepted and the project ends up being assesssed at more than $3.5 millionthe school district and other taxing jurisdictions can plan on ending up in court.

“When we’re done with construction, student housing is based a different way,” he said, referring to the formula for calculating the project’s assessed value. “Your assessor might disagree with that and say it should be $7 million, but we’ll challenge it in court.”

In fact, Mr. Fedack said if he lived in Potsdam he would be challenging the assessment on his home.

“You’re in the top 90 percent in New York state,” he said, referring to the assessed value of property in Potsdam. “If I were you, I would all be challenging your assessment.”

The conversation grew tense as Mr. Fedack refused to answer several questions presented to him by board members.

“We don’t feel it’s pertinent at this point,” he said, prompting Mr. Turbett to say he felt like he was being lectured.

“I feel like I’m four-years old, daddy,” he said.

“I’m not your daddy,” Mr. Fedack replied. “We’ve provided all this financial information for the past eight months.”

Board of education President Christopher C. Cowen said while some financial information has been provided to the district he felt much of the data was inaccurate.

“In January you told us it was $600 (per month) per bed,” he said.

Mr. Fedack responded, “It’s $715,” acknowledging that the figure has changed since the project was first proposed.

“When we request the numbers, it’s not because we’re asking you to reinvent the wheel. It’s because the numbers keep changing,” Mr. Cowen said.

Mr. Fedack replied, “We can charge any rent we want. We could charge $1,000 if we want.”

He explained that when the $600 per bed figure was created it was based on an assessment and corresponding tax payments for a $3.5 million property, not $5.5 million.

Board of education member Thomas W. Hobbs said one thing Chason Affinity isn’t taking into consideration is how the PILOT agreement will affect their tax cap and state aid. “We have to take that into consideration,” he said.

Board member Frederick C. Stone Jr. agreed, “The response we get from the state is it will have a negative impact. The size of that impact is unknown.”

According to calculations made by Potsdam Central Business Manager Laura Hart, the PILOT agreement would save the owner of a property assessed at $100,000 $220.06 over the life of the pct.

“Every dollar in the PILOT is a dollar decrease from the tax levy,” she said. “This is additional revenue generated.”

Mr. Hobbs said that sounds nice, but fails to account for a potential decrease in state aid.

“If we lose our state aid, the taxpayers will have to make up for that,” he said,

“That’s a possibility,” Superintendent Patrick H. Brady replied.

“It is our obligation to give the PILOT question an answer,” Mr. Davis reiterated. “We should put it up for a vote and be done with it.”

Mr. Stone said until Chason Affinity answered the board’s questions he doesn’t feel prepared to vote on the agreement.

“I think it’s premature. We still have uncertainties,” he said.

Mr. Davis replied, “We have been asked a question and our obligation is to answer it yes or no.”

Mr. Stone disagreed, “Our responsibility is to the taxpayers in the community, not to a specific corporation.”

Mr. Stone said he hasn’t decided yet how he would vote. “I’m not adverse to the PILOT, but I don’t know if I would vote yes or no,” he said. “To push a vote at this point, I think it would fail. It would be a disservice to the taxpayers in our community and the company who wants to bring a development here.”

At the close of the meeting when discussing potential agenda items for next month, Mr. Davis again suggested a vote on the agreement.

“I would still like to see the Chason Affinity PILOT put to a yes or no vote,” he said.

Despite not yet having a PILOT agreement, Mr. Fedack said the project is moving forward.

“We’re starting on Monday,” he said. “If you want to support the PILOT go ahead. If not ,that’s OK.”

Two members of the public, who were both opposed to the agreement, spoke during the public comment portion of the evening.

“I’m a property owner and landlord in the village of Potsdam,” Luke Dailey said. “I’m hoping the Affinity people are here to drop their request for PILOTs. I believe every property owner should pay their fair share.”

David Trithart also spoke out against the deal.

“The way I see it, you should give PILOTs to everybody or nobody,” he said. “A PILOT is a subsidy with public monies.

“Why should we give PILOTs to a business of this sort when we’re not giving PILOTs to any other small business in town?” he asked. “The only people who can get PILOTs are big companies who can come in and throw their weight around.”

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