A recent decision by the Orange County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) to award $32 million in tax breaks to a Goshen-based wine manufacturing facility has prompted a bipartisan outcry in the region.
A letter addressed to the IDA’s Board of Directors went out recently with 29 local officials listed as signees, including State Senators James T. Skoufis (39th) and Mike Martucci (42nd).
Skoufis, who keeps a “Pay Your Damn Taxes” t-shirt handy in his closet, is a vocal critic of IDAs and the kinds of tax breaks handed out.
“While we appreciate the mission of economic development and, when appropriate, incentives, it is paramount that Orange County’s villages, towns, cities and school districts have a formal role in the decision-making process when considering property tax abatements,” the letter states. “The Orange County IDA makes decisions that can have a significant impact on our tax base, revenue and budgets, yet we are completely relegated to the sidelines: we have no vote, no role in negotiations and are left to simply write a letter or share comments at a public hearing that can and oftentimes are disregarded.
“We are elected officials who have been entrusted at the ballot box to do right by our taxpayers; furthermore, we are the ones who must deal with the budget ramifications of the IDA’s decisions. As such, it is high time we receive a seat at the table.
“Moving forward, we insist on being treated the same way as the Rockland County IDA collaborates with its municipalities and school districts. The Rockland County IDA votes on whether to authorize “up to” a certain PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) then leaves it to the taxing jurisdictions to negotiate the tax break - or refuse a PILOT. This cooperative approach has not stymied economic development in Rockland County, all the while ensuring local leaders have a direct say in what is happening in their community.”
Their point is well taken. PILOTs are used as incentives to attract new business and industry to the region as well as create jobs. Some, though, are known to pack up and move on when the tax breaks are exhausted.
And taxpayers that don’t pay their full share put a strain on local municipalities and school districts (not to mention the rest of us) by limiting the number of services that can be provided and shifting more of that tax burden.
The situation is not unlike one faced several years ago by the Marlboro School District. Although the operators of the Danskammer Power plant did not receive a PILOT, they did successfully challenge their assessment and subsequently had their taxes lowered significantly. The end result was a near-catastrophic strain on the school district and a significant burden on its tax base.
To be fair, some PILOT recipients are good neighbors. Medline, sharply criticized by Skoufis for the PILOT it was awarded in Montgomery, has been generous in other ways, contributing to the town and village of Montgomery, as well as to local charities.
Still, as the letter pointed out, more can be done for the sake of those who have lived and worked here all along.