By Jennifer L. Warren
NEW WINDSOR – “We are freezing for a reason,” was the phrase several could be heard uttering Wednesday afternoon outside of the Orange County IDA Building on Crotty Lane in New Windsor.
Inside the nearby vacant office a sign displayed on the front door stated that the Company’s CEO, who was on vacation, could be reached by phone for comments.
Meanwhile, Senator James Skoufis (D-Hudson Valley), flanked by representatives from various supporting organizations, was announcing the official commencement of an ardent investigation into the recently-approved, “deeply egregious” package of tax breaks and other fiscal enticements granted to the Goshen-based business, Mack Bros/Milmar Foods, seeking to expand its warehouse infrastructure.
“We are here today in front of the Orange County IDA, who like to operate in dark corners of this building, to order that these tax breaks stop,” began Skoufis, who previously incited another IDA investigation which resulted in criminal charges against and the dismissal of their CEO. “The awareness level of folks has now begun to surface about the bad deals this office is involved with; in fact, this IDA has actually said that taxpayers don’t have to shoulder the burdens of their projects.” Skoufis, not shocked by the local IDAs illicit actions based on their track record, continued, “They have been involved with many bad deals over the years, but today is about the most egregious one of all.”
Armed with the power to grant payments in leu of taxes or PILOTS based on its Uniform Tax Exemption Policy, the Orange County IDA possesses a detailed template which they must abide by to grant assistance to potentially eligible projects. Those parameters were grossly ignored when they received the property tax break application from Mack Bros/Milmar Foods. Indicating on the paperwork that their expansion proposals would result in a three year $165 million expected profit; while expansion costs would weigh in at only $18.5 million, Milmar immediately set off what many would dub a serious red flag.
“They should have tossed the application out right after reading that,” affirmed Skoufis.
They did nothing of the kind. In fact, they continued to read more disturbing information.
The application further included details about the expansion resulting in 50 new jobs, many wielding $35,000 annual salary jobs, numbers Skoufis was again quick to comment upon.
“Good luck with being able to survive in Orange County on that amount of money,” the Senator said, who further indicated what he viewed as the total deal breaker in any legal or moral rights IDA had to be involved with this project. “One of the last questions on the form is if the project can move forward without the help of IDA; every applicant states no, but this one checked off yes, and should have been an unequivocal filter.” Once again, blind eyes prevailed.
The incredulously approved 15-year corporate subsidy “giveaway” will now cost the Goshen community a hefty $2.25 million.
Also on hand supporting the Senator’s investigation launch was Elizabeth Marcello, Senior Research Analyst from Reinvent Albany.
“Business subsidies do not work; they are a waste of the taxpayer money, and create even more economic disparities,” said Marcello. “New York State needs to freeze corporate handouts and say no to the billions in new giveaways proposed by Governor Hochul and corral the IDAs destroying local tax bases and jacking up property taxes.”
“Not only are resident’s tax monies-which could be put to far better use improving our schools- being unfairly exploited on these projects that oftentimes don’t even need them, but so too the in-built job promises are oftentimes sheer lies.”
“Over 100 of these IDAs are doling out taxpayer money in the name of job creation, but there is so little accountability, especially when it comes to creating these jobs,” said another Skoufis supporter, Ron Deutsch, Director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness. “I am proud to stand with Senator Skoufis who has been a constant voice of reason when it comes to reforming these programs to protect taxpayers.” He added, “Study after study shows these PILOTS do not work; economic development comes from making real investment in the community, such as with childcare and other services, not from taking money away from the schools and burdening the taxpayers.”
Echoing these sentiments for how to grow the economy were embedded in remarks from Michael Kink, Executive Director of A Strong Economy for All Coalition.
“The New York State Economic Development Program is so broken that even businesses saying they don’t want or need the help are getting it; we need to freeze all these giveaways, and put the reforms through that Skoufis is pushing,” said Kink. “The right way for economic development is to invest in public services and goods.”
Next up in the process is briefing Orange County IDA on the investigation as well as conducting interviews to mine facts on the truth, looking into similar corrupt actions by other IDAs, raising public awareness, ensuring more accountability and implemementing “commonsense legislative and budgetary reforms.”
“We are working on many bills regarding this issue,” said Skoufis. “We are really hoping this investigation will start to help with passing them.”