Pointed words and pointing fingers took center stage during Tuesday’s Bloomingdale Council meeting as members of the public questioned multiple council members and the mayor about their stances on the AvalonBay Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program.
The PILOT program would give the developer of AvalonBay, a luxury apartment complex on Union Avenue, the ability to make payments to the borough in lieu of paying taxes for 30 years. The majority of the money collected from the payments would be retained by the borough, as oppose to going to the school district and the county.
The comments, which stretched the early public discussion section of the meeting to nearly two hours, come two weeks after Republican Council Members Mark Conklin, Jo-Ann Pituch and Linda Shortman walked out of the Oct. 9 meeting. The walkout occurred as the result of Councilman Ray Yazdi, a Democrat, bringing up the PILOT program ordinance, which had been rejected by the council in September.
Yazdi had also voted against the ordinance, along with the Republican council majority members, so that he would legally be able to bring the topic up again for discussion at future meetings.
Many of the comments Tuesday, which ranged from critiques to accusations, were directed toward Pituch, who voted against the PILOT program and included information about it in a re-election campaign flier. Resident John Darcey kicked off the public discussion by asking Pituch to explain why she rejected the program. Pituch eventually delivered her stance when Darcey requested the answer again during the late public discussion session, saying “the vote has been taken” and that she will not change her mind.
“I believe AvalonBay should pay their fair share of taxes,” Pituch said. “[The PILOT program] is not in the best interest of the taxpayers.”
Darcey also brought up Pituch’s flier, which includes information about how many children could potentially be housed in the luxury rentals, as well as the effect they would have on the school district.
“I saw the flier, as well, and the math on the flier is alarming,” Mayor Jonathan Dunleavy said, referring to the handout’s statement that AvalonBay might bring in up to 130 students.
Within the 174-unit complex, there are projected to be 121 extra bedrooms. Dunleavy said that, based on the studies presented by AvalonBay a few years back during the planning board process, only 12 students are projected.
“What the author of that flier has done is put a child or two in every [extra] bedroom,” the mayor said.
But resident Rich DuHaime took issue with Dunleavy “beating up on Jo-Ann and beating a dead horse.”
“If you want to talk about smoke and mirrors, you are the best at it,” DuHaime said to Dunleavy. “You’re great at deception.”
The mayor responded saying that, to combat any presumptions of deception, an ordinance would be introduced later in the meeting stating that all PILOT programs in the borough would be dedicated to tax relief and debt statement. Yazdi and Dunleavy have said that all money brought in by the PILOT program, a minimum of $550,000 per year that is expected to grow by at least 2 percent per year, according to Yazdi, would be used to pay down the borough's nearly $12 million debt and stabilize taxes. That ordinance was ultimately rejected on introduction by the four Republican council members, although Shortman said she might be interested in revisiting it after it is reviewed by the council’s Ordinance Committee.
Echoing similar comments he has made at previous meetings, Borough Administrator Ted Ehrenburg said everybody keeps arguing that they do not like the PILOT program. However, the AvalonBay rentals will be built no matter what and he said he never hears any other options for bringing in funds.
“Every time we bring this up, people say, ‘We don’t like this’ or ‘We don’t like that,’” Ehrenburg said. “At the end of the day, there will be no services in this town."
“There is going to be such collateral damage, I don’t know when you folks are going to go, ‘Wait a minute...’ There’s no new money coming in.”
A few residents asked Pituch and Shortman specifically what their plans to decrease the borough’s debt would be.
“I don’t see any other way, than with this PILOT program, that we can reduce our taxes, which keep going up,” Cecelia Lael, of Pine Tree Road, said. “I’m asking you to say what your plan is so we can determine whether we want to vote for people who are going to reduce our debt or do nothing about it.”
Shortman said, after listening to about 15 hours about the PILOT program in the past several months, she does not believe it will successfully reduce the debt or taxes.
Instead, Shortman suggested reassessing and renegotiating employment contracts, selling a building that was bought for $550,000 with the intention of it becoming a police station, beautifying downtown to make it more attractive for new businesses and simply stopping spending.
“Knock It Off!”
While many residents aimed to question or comment individual council members, some took issue with the vitriol being exchanged between council members.
After Yazdi transitioned from talking about the statements Pituch made in her flier to talking about her council record – saying that she has no plan and that “all she can do is scare you” – resident Jack Miller quickly approached the podium, saying he could not take it anymore.
“Stop! These people work with you,” Miller said, addressing Yazdi. “All you do is badger and belittle people. That’s what you’re doing.”
Miller then addressed the rest of the representative on the dais, saying everybody is pointing a finger at somebody else.
“Knock it off!” he said, drawing applause from the audience. “Work together for the town.”
Dunleavy responded saying that if he has an idea for bringing revenue to the town and feels he is being stifled, he will not let it go.
“If I don’t agree with somebody’s position, I absolutely am [going to argue],” the mayor said.