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Residents pack Kendall Town Hall over Troutburg tax breaks

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 January 2014 at 12:00 am

Julie Christensen, superintendent of Kendall Central School, said a tax savings plan for The Cottages at Troutburg is too generous for a community with a high poverty and unemployment rates.

KENDALL – A big crowd of Kendall residents turned out for a public hearing this morning for a tax abatement proposal for The Cottages at Troutburg.

The Orleans Economic Development Agency is proposing a 10-year tax plan that would save The Wegman Group $227,777 in taxes. The bulk of the savings are in the beginning of the arrangement and will help the developers with their cash flow during the capital-intensive early stages of the project, said Jim Whipple, executive director of the EDA.

The tax abatement deal only applies to the land and the existing structures. The new seasonal homes will boost the Kendall tax base and are not subject to the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes).

Whipple said the projected 400 cottages could boost the community’s tax base by $30 million when the project is done.

“This is a property tax creating opportunity for the county and town that you don’t normally have,” Whipple said during a two-hour public hearing attended by about 75 people.

Photos by Tom Rivers – Jim Whipple, chief executive officer for the County of Orleans Economic Development Agency, discusses a tax-saving proposal for The Wegman Group, which is working to develop a 400-cottage community in Kendall.

The agreement calls on The Wegman Group to pay $186,363 in taxes over 10 years on the land, a 126-acre former Salvation Army camp along Lake Ontario.

The property did not generate any taxes for about a half century. The Wegman Group bought the site for $1.5 million and has been paying taxes on about a $1.7 million assessment the past two years.

Residents balked at a tax discount for the site, which is targeted to wealthy people who want a second home.

Julie Christensen, Kendall Central School superintendent, was among the chorus of residents who didn’t want to see such generous tax breaks for the Wegman Group in an impoverished community.

The school district would give up $123,544 in taxes as part of the 10-year deal. The county would give up $72,432 while town abatement totals $31,801.

Those lost taxes would have to be redistributed to other residents, Christensen said. The community struggles with a 25 percent poverty rate and the fifth highest unemployment rate in the state.

She asked the benefits proposed to the Wegman Group be cut in half to reduce the sting to the community. Christensen said she supports the overall project and believes the 400-unit site could lead to other improvements in the community, including upgrades to the Lake Ontario State Parkway, expanded Broadband Internet access and more customers for Kendall businesses.

The EDA board was going to vote on the tax incentive plan on Friday, but Whipple said that vote has been pushed back until Feb. 14. The EDA also will have another public hearing about the abatements for more Kendall residents to comment about the proposal.

Dan Gaesser, a former Kendall town supervisor, speaks against a 10-year tax-savings plan for The Cottages at Troutburg. A big crowd turned out today for a public hearing at Town Hall.

Tony Cammarata, the town supervisor, said tax breaks generally aren’t offered to residential projects. Typically they are targeted to manufacturing, tourism and other commercial projects. Cammarata wants to see the Troutburg developers pay more in taxes.

The plan would give them 100 percent off of the taxes on a $1.3 million assessment the first year. Each following year another 10 percent of the tax bill will be added until the full amount is billed after 10 years.

Dan Gaesser, the town supervisor until Dec. 31, said the Wegman Group never indicated it wanted a 10-year abatement with the 0 to 100 percent sliding scale, until a letter arrived in Kendall Town Hall on Jan. 2. He said he would support an incentive that was about half as generous as the current proposal.

Whipple said the developers are turning a site that has been largely underutilized into a significant asset for the community. He said the Wegman Group will be a big taxpayer for the community as the project is developed.

“This is someone putting their butt on the line,” he said about the investment in the site.

The project won’t be a major job creater, Whipple acknowledged. The developer says it will create 13 jobs with the project. The big advantage to the community will be the growing tax base as the cottages are constructed, Whipple said.

“This is a tax base project not a job development project,” he said.