“Divide” is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “. . . a boundary between two things . . .”. This column will discuss people and politics and the issues that affect our Capital District community, the State, and the country. Especially the issues where governmental action (or inaction) either helps to fill in the gap in The Divide, or widens The Divide.
I recently checked out the Albany Capital Center on Eagle Street. While standing across the street from the steel and glass structure, memories flooded back about my long-time opposition to the proposed convention center. I won’t go into all of the issues I had, and still have about the Center, but I do want to concentrate on one problem: the lost tax revenue. (If you have nothing better to do, and want to see why I was opposed to the convention center project, please visit: http://calsolaro.net/convention_list.php ).
The Capital Center is scheduled to open in March 2017. The Capital Center convention center is located only one block south from Albany City Hall. However, the ‘divide’ from lost tax revenue to the city, county and school district over the past 8 years is so huge, it might as well as have been built in Timbuctoo! The Albany Convention Center Authority (ACCA) pays no taxes on all of the land it has acquired over the past eight years. This land not only includes the Eagle Street site, but all of the properties on Broadway that are no longer being used for the convention center. Some of these parcels were the E-Comm buildings that were occupied when the ACCA took ownership but are now empty and boarded-up, adding to the blight on Broadway.
In 2010 and 2013 I introduced resolutions in the Albany Common Council requesting that the ACCA enter into a Payment-In-Lieu-Of-Taxes (PILOT) agreement with Albany to make up for the lost tax revenue for all of the properties the ACCA had purchased and subsequently removed from the tax rolls. The Common Council passed both resolutions, but the ACCA refused to implement the PILOT.
Every parcel of land bought by the ACCA comes off of the tax rolls and increases the amount of non-taxable property in Albany. The cash-strapped city of Albany could use the tax revenue it used to get from the now ACCA-owned properties. According to a 2010 report from the city assessor, the almost 40 parcels of land owned by the ACCA were assessed at over $9.3 million. (NOTE: This does not include the land on Eagle Street where the Capital Center is finally being constructed). In 2010, these properties would have paid $149,000 in city/county property taxes and $246,400 in school taxes. So, over the past six years, our local taxing districts have lost a minimum of $2.4 million in tax revenue. Revenue that you and I, the taxpayers in Albany, have had to make up through our tax obligation.
Following the passage of the second PILOT request resolution in May, 2013, Gavin Donohue, chairman of the ACCA board, was quoted in a Times Union article: “We understand it’s our obligation to be good citizens of Albany, and we intend to do that at an appropriate time.” Well, now is the time! The Albany Capital Center is booking conventions and shows for 2017. The ACCA will be receiving revenues from these events. A PILOT agreement with Albany must be implemented starting with fiscal year 2017 and the PILOT payments must be made a part of the operating budget of the Capital Center. Now that the Capital Center will be up and running in a few months, the backs of the taxpayers of Albany should no longer be burdened filling the void created by the lost tax revenue on the properties owned by the ACCA.
Furthermore, the PILOT must also include payments to make up for the deleterious affect the ACCA’s actions to de-tenant the E-Comm buildings on Broadway have had on the city’s efforts to redevelop downtown. These boarded-up, now vacant buildings, have necessitated the city to spend more resources to monitor the empty buildings–from code enforcement actions to police and fire calls. The lack of effort between the ACCA and the Empire State Development Corporation to attract a developer for the Broadway site, and the deteriorating condition of the buildings (do I hear “demolition by neglect” in this case), have cost the city more than just the loss of tax revenues.
Yes, Chairman Donohue, it is time for the ACCA “to be good citizens of Albany” and to step up and pay its fair share of taxes to the city, county and school district of Albany. And, perhaps the ACCA’s PILOT agreement could be a boilerplate for the other tax-free state authorities located in Albany to use to establish their own PILOTs with our cashed-strapped city to provide the revenue we so desperately need and deserve.
Dominick Calsolaro represented Albany’s First Ward on the Common Council for three terms. Calsolaro has been an outspoken critic of crude oil trains, the Albany landfill, and advocated for community policing.