Wilmorite could move forward with the Park Point housing complex without paying any taxes on the project, according to New Paltz Town Supervisor Susan Zimet.
However, in February, Wilmorite applied for a 25-year long Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, agreement with the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency. If approved the arrangement would have the company pay $101,900 the first year of the plan, with a gradual increase to $304,252 in the final year.
The town assessor estimates that Wilmorite would owe $1.5 million annually if Park Point were taxed at the same level as other properties in the town, according to Zimet.
“It was looked into and it’s been confirmed that the property is tax exempt,” Zimet said. “Because the mission statement of the foundation did get changed to include student housing, the student housing portion of the project will be entirely tax exempt.”
In a letter to faculty and staff, President Donald Christian said, “It is unfortunate that many people have not understood that the developer will pay full taxes on [the faculty and staff] units to support K-12 education, recognizing that employees are more likely than students to have school-aged children.”
According to Christian’s letter, additional housing Park Point will provide is critical to maintaining SUNY New Paltz’s enrollment levels in an increasingly competitive higher education environment.
Wilmorite Inc., a Rochester-based real estate development firm, is partnering with the SUNY New Paltz Foundation to construct a 732-bed, $56 million housing complex next to the campus on Route 32 South.
The New Paltz Foundation, the college’s non-profit fundraising arm, purchased the 41-acre plot of land where Wilmorite will construct Park Point for $2 million in 2007 and plans to lease the land to Wilmorite for 46 years.
However, Wilmorite’s decision to pay a reduced rate on the student housing portion of the project has drawn criticism from some residents and Town Board members.
“I think the big picture that the foundation is missing is that we’re seeing tuition increase, we’re seeing room and board increase, we’re seeing it take five to six years for students to get through our university system,” Town Board member Kristin Brown said. “The state doesn’t have enough revenue to operate its university system. Why not? Because the state grants tax exemptions to billion dollar corporations.”
In his letter, Christian cites data from the Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress that shows a nearly 20 percent decline in the number of high school graduates in Ulster County between 1993 and 2020. Similar declines are happening across the Hudson Valley.
“Colleges and universities throughout New York and the Northeast view the same statistics that we do, and are intensifying their recruitment efforts in areas of traditional recruitment strength for New Paltz,” Christian said in his letter.
In a letter to the Town Board, David Dorsky, chair of the New Paltz Foundation’s Real Estate Committee, defended Wilmorite’s pending PILOT application before the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency.
“Wilmorite’s proposed PILOT agreement will more than offset any expenses incurred by the Town for providing additional municipal services,” Dorsky said.
According to a report prepared by the state comptroller’s office, Industrial Development Agencies were created in 1969 to boost economic development. There are 114 active IDAs throughout the state providing nearly $500 million in tax exemptions.
The comptroller’s office estimates that 181,712 jobs were gained as a result of such projects at a cost of $2,659 per job created, while local taxpayers had to make up $483 million in revenues lost through PILOT tax exemptions in 2010 alone.
The Mid-Hudson region offered the highest level of net exemptions of any region in the state, according to the report.
A fact-sheet prepared by Wilmorite “minimal impacts are anticipated” to Town fire, police and other services “based upon previous experience with similar student housing projects in the State.”
However, the initial cost estimates outlined by Wilmorite were based on the assumption that SUNY New Paltz University Police would provide police services to Park Point, according to Wilmorite’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the project.
It was later reported that University Police would not be able to patrol Park Point. Their latest union contract prohibits UPD officers from servicing any off-campus locations, according to University Police Chief David Dugatkin.
The New Paltz Police Commission estimates that an additional $12.5 million in emergency services costs over 25 years would result from the construction of Park Point, while Wilmorite estimates $300,000 in additional costs over the same period.
“They can’t tell us, never having been in New Paltz, what we need and what we don’t need. That has to come from experts who have been living here for years,” Ira Margolis, member of the New Paltz Police Commission said.