Chilly reaction greets Kohl’s new tax break plan

GREENPORT–The public had its say Wednesday, March 31, on a tax break for a Kohl’s department store, and the verdict was a firm No.

The Widewaters Group, developers of Greenport Commons, has applied to the Columbia County Industrial Development Agency for a 15-year payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) deal. The latest proposal from the developer would see property taxes on the Kohl’s parcel, currently about $22,500 a year as undeveloped land, increase to $34,375 the first year and grow 2% per year for the life of the PILOT.

In an earlier version of the proposal presented March 12, taxes on the property would have risen 1.5% a year for 15 years from the $22,500 baseline.

Under the proposal Kohl’s would also be exempted from sales tax on equipment purchases for the store, and would guarantee at least $90,000 in sales tax revenue the first year and $100,000 each year thereafter, though if the store failed to produce that much tax revenue, the PILOT would be suspended unless Kohl’s made up the shortfall with a cash payment.

The proposal also says Widewaters must provide “reasonable opportunities” for local contractors to bid for work on the project, and must document the bids received and contracts awarded.

A guarantee that was part of an earlier applications for the Kohl’s PILOT that would have required the store to provide 33 full-time jobs at the Greenport store was not included in the latest proposal.

According to a letter from Kohl’s to Widewaters, read at the hearing by Ted Guterman, counsel for the Industrial Development Agency (IDA), the 33-full-time-jobs figure was an estimate. The letter said that “actual employment will vary depending upon each location and therefore Kohl’s cannot make guarantees.”

First to comment was Board of Supervisors Chairman Roy Brown (R-Germantown), who pointed to rising demands on the Department of Social Services and declining sales tax revenues as underlining the need for jobs in the county. A majority of the board, he said, supports the PILOT for Kohl’s.

Not so the Greenport Town Board, said councilman Thomas Fleming, after getting a laugh by saying “Welcome to the forgotten town.”

The Greenport board “supports the project but opposes the PILOT,” he said. “If Widewaters pays less, someone else in the town will pay more,” and residential taxpayers are “stretched to the limit,” Mr. Fleming said.

“I pay tremendous taxes,” said resident Sandra Kipp. “You should be ashamed to sit up there and ask for a tax break.”

Citing the many businesses that have closed or left Greenport in the past two decades, resident Curt Warfield asked, “Why doesn’t the IDA give businesses tax breaks before they close their doors?”

“We do not need to support a company that is going to be a significant competitor” to local providers, declared Claverack resident Howard Brandston.

Alan Dattelbaum, district manager for one of those providers, Peebles Department Store, sounded a similar note, claiming that the cars now crowding Applebee’s parking lot “used to be at Bob’s or the diner.”

A lunchtime check by this reporter at Bob’s Restaurant and the Plaza Diner found both busy.

“I was raised to believe that competition is good for the consumer,” said former Town Supervisor John Rutkey. “I’m tired of driving to Albany to shop.”

The IDA board–all members of which attended the hearing–will consider the PILOT application and the comments on it at the agency’s next regular meeting April 13 at 8 a.m. at 401 State Street, Hudson.

At that time, given substantial changes to the PILOT application, the IDA may schedule another public hearing, Mr. Guterman said.

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