Locals Protest Possible Park Point PILOT

Photo by Robin WeinsteinRecently, lawns throughout New Paltz became home to red signs reading “Tax Park Point, Not the Children” and “parkpointpetition.com.”  The signs were put up in protest of Wilmorite’s recent payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) request from the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (UCIDA).

According to the Wilmorite website, the PILOT agreement would cover “the incurred expenses by the Town for fire, police, emergency and other services provided,” and provide an “increased tax base…as opposed to the current tax exempt status.”

Wilmorite’s website outlines that the Universal Tax Exempt Policy offered by the UCIDA would “provide a 25-year tax abatement program for which the project will pay a range of $450-750 per unit.” The UCIDA would determine the exact PILOT payment and annual increases based on the “reassessment of local impacts plus the Consumer Price Index” —  and in the 26th year, “the project would pay full property taxes for the remainder of the lease term,” which is a 46-year ground lease.

However, the petition launched by “New Paltz Taxpayers” on Change.org — which shares the same slogan as the sign and currently has 236 signatures — says if IDA approves Park Point as a pilot project, Wilmorite “will not have to pay any property taxes, sales taxes or mortgage recording taxes.”

The petition states that if the UCIDA rejects Park Point’s PILOT request, Wilmorite would be required to pay taxes “based on their assessed value” like other property owners. The “taxpayers” against the project said the property taxes alone could give the New Paltz school district — which has sustained budget and program cuts — “approximately $1 million per year and an additional $400,000 per year to the town of New Paltz and Ulster County.”

Gerald Benjamin, director of the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach, said the size of tax abatement is the issue, not the actual abatement, as it is a common practice and policy in New York State.

“I also think there has been some exaggeration of the cost to the community,” he said. “I’m arguing that the costs should be weighed against the benefits. The argument needs to be a little more joined on real sound issues and less on exaggeration and the rhetorically attractive.”

According to Change.org, those who have signed the petition include Town Councilman Jeff Logan and Donald Kerr, a New Paltz resident and prominent community member. Kerr said the signs have brought the topic of Wilmorite’s PILOT into the “mainstream discussion.”

“The lawn signs — and the strained reference to taxing children — were a bit over the top, but served a purpose to bring the issue to folks who don’t often read the paper,” he said.

Benjamin said the signs are “opaque” in their explicit message, but he thinks people are most “worried” about their economic well-being.

“I think people think that if housing is built near the campus, they’ll be economically harmed,” he said. “A lot, but not all, of the signs I’ve seen are on houses for people who currently rent housing to students.”

While he is in favor of the project, Benjamin said he thinks a lot of people are opposing the project because Wilmorite is a large corporation — which he sees as “irrelevant.” He said the town and village should be weighing the values of Park Point versus the concerns.

“The project is important to the college and future vitality of the college in a very competitive environment — the community has thrived because the college is a large presence in the village,” he said. “I think there’s not a full understanding that the vitality of the community is contingent on the vitality of the university.”

Kerr said he’s against Wilmorite’s PILOT requests for two reasons — the first is that Park Point will require police and fire service, which costs taxpayers money, and the second is that 80 percent of the land in New Paltz is “off the tax rolls,” making the remaining 20 percent “very high” in local taxes.

“I welcome Park Point as long as they don’t want to crash on my (tax) couch,” he said. “A PILOT request is not required to make this project viable. Can’t blame Wilmorite for being greedy, but can’t blame the residents from stopping them either.”