Saturday, January 27, 2007

Closing the Barn Door . . .

Yesterday's O-D Edict-orial, "Preswick shouldn't be tax exempt" exhorts "Town, school district, county must remain unified." Few of this region's beleaguered taxpayers would disagree with either the OD's conclusion or direction. Prestwick's clientele are screened by the entry fee to be well-heeled and certainly do not need a tax break.

In reviewing the issue, the editors were careful to point out that the exemption in-issue stemmed from an agreement entered into by "a previous Town board." Perhaps this is a veiled criticism of a previous administration?

Mme. Publisher's husband, Jerome Donovan, was not so veiled, however, during his appearance on WIBX's "First Look" yesterday. (Please note the synchronization with the editorial, as well as his occupancy of the entire program between 8 and 9 AM, and that no calls were entertained. Being part of the region's elite apparently brings privileges in getting one's point across.) Mr. Donovan quite plainly accused former officials of failing to exercise "due diligence" and implied that the Town's counsel was guilty of malpractice.

The criticism is unfair (and the motivation for same is questionable). Town consultation with its attorney IS "due diligence," and an attorney's failure to predict how a future court would rule on a legal "gray-area" is NOT malpractice. As we noted a few days ago, although perhaps wrong in hindsight, and although we do not like it now, the Town 's original decision was rational because it guaranteed that the Town would receive a stream of income from Prestwick.

If the implications of the Prestwick Glen project had been brought to the public's consciousness 5 years ago, perhaps the potential customers would have let it be known that they do not want to be perceived as avoiding their fair share of taxes. Perhaps Presbyterian Homes would have realized that their reputation (as opposed to tax status) as a charitable institution would be threatened. Perhaps other local charities would have pressured Presbyterian Homes to rethink its proposal, because of a potential negative reflection on all charities. P
erhaps no agreement would have been made.

The editorial is correct, but it comes too late to make a difference . . . Like closing the barn door after the horse escapes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

STRIKESLIP: I looked into my files and came up with the following back Observer Dispatch Editorial of May 23, 2005 re: Jerry Donovan and the O.D.'s coverage. (READ BELOW)

Once again, there does exist preferential treatment when your wife is the Editor - although she claims, "she had no part." I do believe that they occupy the same household and sleep together. It would be naive of anyone to think that Donna's position does not influence her staff on who is permitted "intellectual" freedoms using the Gannett based newspaper.

If memory serves me correctly, did their son not appear as a guest writer on more than one occasion.

I believe there is an abuse by the Editor who allows her family preferential treatment while denying the same entitlement(s) to the everyday individual. Oh I forgot, Donna only allows Letters to the Editor not-to-exceed 150 words. Is this fairness to the public who supports the Observer Dispatch?

It should be noted that the readership rate of the O.D. continues to decline because of the self-serving interests of the O.D. Editor and to members of her immediate family.

With regard to the May 2005 O.D. EDITORIAL, here is what I found:

Editorial: State needs clear policy on tax exemptions

AT ISSUE: New York needs clear, consistant policy on tax-exempt status for projects such as Preswick Glen.

Mon, May 23, 2005


New York state needs to help settle a dispute in New Hartford over whether the town board can grant tax-exempt status to a proposed living community being marketing to affluent senior citizens.

A clear standard is necessary because in a community that is aging, there's a strong likelihood that other cases will arise in the future.

The debate is over a 40-acre site off Clinton Road to be known as Preswick Glen. Developers plan to build cottages, apartments and a community center and charge seniors partially refundable entrance fees ranging from $50,000 to $210,000.

The town has granted the development tax-exempt status because Preswick Glen's affiliate is the nonprofit Presbyterian Homes Foundation Inc. Some argue that since the land is not currently on the tax roll, town taxpayers aren't losing anything.

But Jerome Donovan, a town taxpayer who also is a member of the planning board, argues that the exemption cheats taxpayers out of millions of dollars. His research shows that in the first year the property tax loss to the town, school district and county would be more than $440,000. At current rates, Donovan says, the loss could exceed $4.3 million over the next 10 years.

Donovan says that Preswick Glen is being marketed to well-to-do senior citizens and that if exemptions are going to be made, they should be reserved for the town's lower-income seniors, not those who can afford to pay taxes.

While there is no argument that seniors who live in such communities contribute in many ways to the region's economy, setting up a tax haven in central New York could pose a problem to municipalities and particularly to school districts that rely on a sound tax base for revenue. That's why some sort of guide is needed.

But state courts haven't addressed it. Even New Hartford's town attorney agrees that the issue is murky. "It's not clear-cut that Preswick Glen is entitled to a tax exemption," town attorney Vincent Rossi Jr. said. James Dunne, real property tax research director for the state Office of Real Property Services, said exemptions have become an issue for retirement homes, particularly for the "well-heeled" retirement homes.

That would include places like Acacia Village, an upscale retirement facility located on the Masonic Care Community campus in the Herkimer County Town of Frankfort. Following a three-year legal battle, a state court determined in 2002 that Acacia Village was covered under a section of the New York State Real Property tax law that covers fraternal organizations.

Preswick Glen, however, doesn't fit in that category. Where it does fit is something the state needs to decide now.

EDITOR'S NOTE: O-D President and Publisher Donna M. Donovan, wife of Jerome Donovan, recused herself from the discussion for this editorial.