Three of the Bloomingdale Council's Republican members walked out of Tuesday night's borough council meeting during discussion on the proposed AvalonBay Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program.
"What happened here tonight is disgraceful. We're no longer coherent," said resident and Planning Board Member Ed Simoni, who was observing from the audience.
An ordinance to approve the PILOT program was rejected by the council last month, including by Democrat Councilman Ray Yazdi. Yazdi 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.
The PILOT program would give the developer of a luxury apartment complex on Union Avenue, AvalonBay, 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. Yazdi and Mayor Jonathan 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.
"We're not doing this to give the developer a break. We're doing this to pay off debt," Yazdi said Tuesday.
Yazdi has presented projected revenue estimates and details of the program to the public at the past several meetings, though Republican council members and some members of the public have said they do not believe his numbers or have faith that the borough will benefit from the program. Yazdi has said his numbers are the same as those of the borough auditor, who initially told council members about the PILOT program as one option for bringing in revenue.
Yazdi presented the program to the public once again Tuesday night and specifically asked Councilwoman Linda Shortman if she would reconsider her vote against the ordinance. He challenged Shortman to explain to the public why she voted against the PILOT program.
"I don't see this as helping our taxes," she said.
After asking several more questions about Shortman's understanding of the program, Councilwoman Jo-Ann Pituch and Councilman Mark Conklin gathered their things and encouraged Shortman to leave the meeting with them. Councilman Glenn Schiffman was absent from the meeting.
As a result, the council was no longer able to meet, as not enough members were present. Instead, the mayor encouraged members of the public to stay and have an informal discussion on any topic, including those that were not able to be discussed on the evening's agenda.
Several members of the public were upset about the actions that took place.
"I think people leaving the meeting is irresponsible," resident Carolyn Bross said.
Resident Lorraine Weinbrock was also displeased with the events that occurred at the meeting, but not by the council members walking out as much as what she called Yazdi "badgering" Shortman. Still, several members of the public said the council members who voted against the PILOT program should be accountable for answering questions about their votes.
"If you're going to sit up there on the dais, you should be able to answer why you're voting a certain way," resident Dawn Hudson said.
Residents were not the only ones surprised by what transpired.
"I just can't believe what goes on here," Borough Administrator Ted Ehrenburg said.
Ehrenburg noted that because several council members left the meeting, approval items, such as bills, were not able to be taken care of.
"It's hard for me to keep my head up and tell these people to come in here and do a good job," he said. "When people tell me that this has nothing to do with politics, I'm sorry."
Ehrenburg said he has asked the council members for a plan of how the borough will bring in revenue if the PILOT program is not approved and is still waiting on answers. He said the borough is in a serious financial crisis.
"In 2013, if something magical does not happen...you're not going to get any services from the borough because there's no money to run this," he said.
When asked by a resident how long it would take for the borough to be bankrupt if things continued the way they are, Dunleavy said the borough would be bankrupt within six years.
"We are bleeding. The borough is in bad financial shape," he said.
Yazdi and Dunleavy said they will continue to bring up the topic of the PILOT program at every meeting until the end of the year to stress how much of a benefit they feel the program is to the borough.
A special meeting will be scheduled so council members can discuss the borough business that was not addressed during Tuesday's meeting, including discussion on the "Nightmare on Bailey Ave." event.