Sen. James Skoufis called for the dissolution of the Town of Montgomery Industrial Development Agency (IDA). This came after he saw Project Sailfish’s waiver request to use non-local labor for a painting associated with their warehouse on the IDA’s agenda for their meeting on Jan. 12.
“This waiver’s meritless approval is deeply disturbing and nothing short of a giveaway to a multi-billion dollar company,” he said. “This IDA needs to go, period. Between their actions during Medline, their refusal to look out for local jobs and their overall egregious behavior, I will be undertaking an effort to dissolve the Montgomery IDA on behalf of the town’s taxpayers. I am sick and tired of seeing my constituents ripped off at every turn - it needs to stop, it needs to stop now and the IDA has clearly indicated they are not able or willing to do it themselves.”
Project Sailfish, an Amazon warehouse that is under construction at the intersections of NYS Route 17K and 747, received a quote from a firm with non-local workers with a price differential of 32 percent, higher than the 20 percent threshold for consideration.
On Jan. 12, Sen. James Skoufis sent a letter to the Town of Montgomery Industrial Development Agency calling for them to reject the waiver request. He noted that offering a waiver of this nature for this applicant is inappropriate for two main reasons. One of the main reasons is that the applicant is more than capable of paying for the price differential. The IDA approved a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) that equates to a tax break of over $20 million for this project based on its presumed benefit to the local community and local workers.
“Chairman (Jeff) Crist in the course of approving the PILOT claimed that over 300 construction jobs would be created,” Skoufis said in his letter on Jan. 12 to the IDA. “I hope that in this trying time for our community, which has faced months of financial strain, you stand up for the residents of Montgomery and insist on the applicant sticking to the spirit of the original agreement.”
Skoufis’ second major argument for why the waiver should be rejected is that there is no threat that rejecting the waiver will jeopardize the project. The warehouse is currently under construction, so abandonment is unrealistic.
On Jan. 12, the IDA unanimously approved Project Sailfish’s waiver. Conor Eckert, Executive Director of the Town of Montgomery IDA, noted that Sailfish tried to get local labor for the painting but was unable to.
“Initially Sailfish bid out the project using a list of local painters given to them by local union representatives,” he said. “Once they got the initial results, our local labor monitor said they should rebid it again and try to get more local companies involved. They decided to invite other local companies in a second round to continually try to get local labor on the job and they couldn’t get it within 20 percent.”
He added that Sailfish has employed many local laborers. Matthew Stoddard, Iron Workers Local 417 President and a Town of Montgomery IDA Board Member, noted that 85 percent of the applicant’s labor is local. He wants all of the labor to be local, however there are rules that the IDA has to abide by.
“I wish that every worker at that site was 100 percent local,” Stoddard said. “Unfortunately with the labor policy as it’s written, the job has to be 85 percent local labor. There are three exceptions, it could be a price differential, warranty issue or a lack of manpower.”
In response to Skoufis’ statement, Eckert noted that the IDA will continue to find ways to bolster the local economy.
“We singularly care about improving the Town of Montgomery and we will continue to follow our fiduciary duties in our mission to do just that,...” he said. “The IDA Board is committed to the community. We are committed to the values of transparency, accountability and accessibility. I’ve made my office available to any member of the community who has questions, comments or concerns. I’ve held coffee conversation meetings to get to know the community.”
Montgomery Town Supervisor Brian Maher issued his own statement Tuesday and said he is inviting Skoufis and Assemblyman Brian Miller (R-I-C New Hartford) to a roundtable discussion focusing on the role of the IDA and incentive programs.
“Did Amazon deserve a tax break of any kind? No, of course not,” Maher said. “The Town of Montgomery and other communities in New York State do not want to give out tax breaks. Senator Skoufis would have you believe that this is an issue you can fit into a Facebook post or tweet. You cannot. How IDA’s operate and how and why PILOT’s exist are very complex issues that we should be talking about. We should be talking about this issue at length so that residents can better understand why a company like Amazon or Medline receives tax breaks even though they make billions in profits. “
Maher said he was also frustrated with the latest exemption but that IDAs are mandated to establish policies to inform the public and provide transparency in the decision-making process.
“The IDA should not be arbitrary, it should follow the lawful policies that have been adopted.,” Maher said. “The IDA should not cave into political pressure at the expense of established policy and law. What Senator Skoufis does not know is that work is being done to better this local labor policy to potentially avoid these types of waivers in the future.”
The town hall meeting has been set for Thursday, January 28 for a time yet to be determined based on Skoufis and Miller’s availability.