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JCIDA to consider forcing property tax breaks for housing projects

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Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Board members of the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency will consider changing the agency’s uniform tax-exempt policy to allow it to unilaterally decide on a property tax break agreement for housing projects.

Board member W. Edward Walldroff first suggested the idea to revisit the policy on payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements.

“This is a classic scenario where we might have shot ourselves in the foot and tied our hands by not having the hammer available,” he said. “I wonder if we maybe shouldn’t reconsider that if parties can’t come together, we can impose a PILOT without their approval.”

CEO Donald C. Alexander conceded there are situations where JCIDA could take heat off elected officials while providing developers with what they need to proceed with necessary projects.

“It would be another card in our negotiating deck,” he said. “Nobody wants to do this without agreement among the taxing jurisdiction, but sometimes they get wrapped up in myopic issues and someone has to take the global view.”

He was quick to say, though, that negotiations among Jefferson County, the Watertown City School District and the town of Watertown with apartment project developers COR Development Co., Fayetteville, and Morgan Management, Pittsford, have moved.

Those two projects are proposed for the town of Watertown and were awarded $6.74 million in low-interest loans from three local agencies, including JCIDA, through the Community Rental Housing Program.

“Each one of the taxing jurisdictions have elected officials who are operating those entities and have a due diligence process they have to go through,” Mr. Alexander said. “They need to take time to understand the issues. Every one of these jurisdictions have spent a huge amount of time to move the ball down the field.”

Board member and county Legislator Kent D. Burto, R-Carthage, urged patience.

“Let’s get through the first one that they’re dealing with and see how it goes,” he said. “We don’t want to go out and step on anyone’s toes.”

But Mr. Walldroff asked that a group investigate language changes. Mr. Walldroff, Urban C. Hirschey and Michelle D. Pfaff will be the committee to consider the changes. They will meet at 9 a.m. today.

Once the full board agrees to proposed changes, they will be sent to every taxing jurisdiction for a 30-day comment period.

“You could always reject it if you choose to not go forward,” Mr. Alexander said.

In other housing news, JCIDA transferred the $315,923 it received from the Fort Drum housing project to the Jefferson County Local Development Corp., where it keeps the money to be lent or granted. All of the money JCLDC has or will accrue in the next few years from the Fort Drum project, known as Residential Communities Initiative, will be lent to support off-post apartment construction through the Community Rental Housing Program committee.

“We’re going to get it done, one way or another,” board Chairman David J. Converse said. “We’ve got to have housing — it’s too important. If the Army makes a determination because of a lack of housing and Fort Drum is downsized, the whole region is going down in a hurry.”

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