Letter to the Editor

I read with interest your article titled “Developments to change local landscape” regarding the Arthur S. May school redevelopment. One critical component that did not come out about this project is the 25-year Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) that the project is seeking. Basically, this is a tax break for the developer at the expense of the other taxpayers.

The PILOT proposal includes the Arlington Fire District (AFD), the Library District, the Arlington School District, the Town of Poughkeepsie and Dutchess County.

The Arlington Fire District should receive the full amount of taxes from the proposed redevelopment of the former Arthur S. May School and so should the Library District, but that is not the current proposal. The current proposal appears to maximize the developer’s profits at the expense of taxpayers.

There is a false premise being promulgated by some people, including some Town Board members, that this project with the PILOT will help the Arlington Fire District because the school didn’t pay any taxes. No one should fall for that. It sounds good, but it simply is not true. This project will drive fire and EMS calls with its 110-room hotel, 187 apartment units and commercial space. AFD responds to all fire and EMS calls. The public school really did not generate many emergency calls. As a former Fire Commissioner in AFD, I am well aware of the level of calls to that building as a school.

AFD Chief Steenbergh has done extensive analysis that concludes there would be a $2.1 million loss in fire tax revenue over 25 years that will force the community to subsidize the project financially until the year 2039. It is ironic that your article quoted the purchase price of the property also as $2.1 million so, one could say, the AFD taxpayers would be refunding the purchase price to the developer.

Chief Steenbergh presented the extensive details of his analysis to the Town Board at their Dec. 4, 2019 meeting. Council members Jeff Renihan, Jessica Lopez and Bill Carlos were absent for this important information.

Council member Ann Shershin, who has been pushing this project and was quoted in your article, should be recusing herself from discussion and votes on this project, as she appears to have a conflict of interest: She is also on the board of the Arlington Business Improvement District (BID) which she disclosed at the Planning Board meeting on Nov. 21, 2019. The Arlington BID has a mission to encourage growth in their little area, but Shershin needs to be concerned about all of the taxpayers in the town. So far, she has been publicly vocal about support for the project and has not voiced any concern about the PILOT.

It is interesting that no one quoted in your article mentions the PILOT: the underbelly of the project for taxpayers.

Residents in the Arlington Fire District will get hurt the worst because of the relatively small pool to spread any fire taxes not paid by this project. AFD is an expensive service with about 70 career firefighters and an $18.4 million budget for 2020. What will it look like over 25 years? Residents who are also in the Arlington School District will get hit every way possible. Since Library taxes get spread in the town and city of Poughkeepsie, any shift in taxes will also hit city residents for this project in the town.

As a point aside, Vassar College drives about 10 percent of the approximately 6,000 calls a year to the Arlington Fire District.

The Fire District and Library District do not get a vote on their participation in PILOTs. The Town Board has the vote and will determine if the residents shoulder the taxes that are not paid by the project. The PILOT proposal is also slated to go to the Dutchess County Industrial Development Agency (IDA).

At a minimum, the Arlington Fire District and Library District should be excluded from this PILOT proposal. They have no other way to make up for the proposed tax reduction other than passing it on to the residents. The Town and County can at least make money on additional taxes and fees that supposedly would be generated by this project.

The simple answer is: Developers should pay their full taxes. PILOTs were intended for tax-exempt entities to compensate the community for services they use and not to give for-profit entities tax breaks, putting additional tax burden on the rest of the community.

Jim Beretta

(Poughkeepsie; Taxpayer in the Arlington Fire District and Town Of Poughkeepsie; Former Commissioner, Arlington Fire District)

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