When I first read the story that the town of New Hartford will not be returning mitigation fees to developers, I felt very disappointed. This sum of money was money we borrowed in 1998. The money was to help facilitate the construction of the medical building — a dream we had nurtured for many years. . . .While developers are sometimes painted as the bad guys -- and they can be when they use connections to get things at public expense they are not entitled to -- in many cases they are just people going about their business. In doctor Palumbo's case, a large fee was taken from him purportedly to mitigate environmental impacts from his project. He brings home the fact that in his case, the fee hit him and his family personally.
Presuming that the Town had the statutory authority to take the fee from the doctor in the first place (which does not appear to be the case) the town had an obligation to use the fees for the purposes intended: TO MITIGATE IMPACTS FROM THE DOCTOR'S PROJECT. If not used for that purpose, the town has the obligation to return the fee.
As recently commented upon in this blog, the attorney's letter that the Town is relying upon to keep the fee appears to have been the product of manipulation of the attorney by the Town. Town officials fed the attorney just the "facts" the attorney would need to give Town officials the opinion they wanted. Whatever may have been agreed upon in 1998 with the developer, the Town will do what it wants now. Unfortunately, that attitude from the Town is going to continue into the new administration given Mr. Tyksinski's comment the the fees should not be returned, no matter what the contracts said.
While the title of the editorial remarks that the town has done developers a disservice, the Town has done its PEOPLE a disservice. Not only have they been deprived of the mitigation of impacts intended by the Town's taking of the fee, they have been deprived of the ability to predict what their government will do to them in the future . . . that commitments made will be honored and not discarded by a change in attitude by the people in charge.
One of the biggest incentives to economic growth is maintenance of a stable government. Honoring commitments is a huge part of that. No one wants to invest in an area where an investment can potentially be rendered worthless by the stroke of some bureaucrat's pen.
It is wrong for the town to do something different now than it promised to do a decade ago. It is wrong for the Town to not return fees to Dr. Palumbo . . . Similarly, it was also wrong for the Town to change its position on Prestwick Glen after the project was underway, even though, in hindsight giving that developer a tax brake may have been a mistake.
If you can't trust the word of your government, it's time for a new government.
There's more on this topic on New Hartford Online.