Space study lands with thud

Supes sidetrack plan to look at old Walmart for new offices

HUDSON — The county Board of Supervisors Committee for Planning and Economic Development this week tabled a proposal to move a step closer to purchasing the vacant Walmart building on Fairview Avenue in Greenport.

The committee met Tuesday, February 22, to discuss whether to recommend that the full Board of Supervisors fund a space study, a preliminary step toward purchasing the former site of the store at the plaza still occupied by the Price Chopper supermarket. Some county officials see the vacant box store as a place where the county can consolidate government offices, but the committee tabled the proposal, with some members reluctant to spend an unbudgeted $78,000 without knowing the tax consequences.

“I have some reservations about spending money on this project at this time,” said Supervisor Art Baer (I-Hillsdale). “Three months ago it wasn’t important enough to get it in the budget. Do we need 100,000 square feet?” he said.

“We haven’t seen a pro forma tax impact analysis and we’re thinking of committing $1.1 million county money to make it work. That’s one million more than we are currently paying on all our leases,” added Mr. Baer, a former chairman of the board who led the effort that resulted in the county purchasing the old Ockawamick School campus in Claverack several years ago.

Mr. Baer said the county has other big projects it needs to address, and he questioned how much the purchase of the Walmart building would increase the amount of money the county would have to raise through the property tax. “Would the tax levy increase by 6, 8, or 9%? We need to do the math first…. I’m wondering if we’ve got the cart before the horse,” he said.

Mr. Baer, who also served as the county’s financial officer until he and the leaders of the Republican and Conservative parties parted ways in a bitter exchange, said the county faces a decision soon on what to do about the building in Hudson occupied by the county Department of Social Services (DSS) on Railroad Avenue. “We have the option to buy 25 Railroad at a fair market value, around $1 million; that’s $50,000 per year less than Walmart. That’s an option.” He said the county does not have an option to extend the lease on the Hudson building.

“I thought that was not a choice, I didn’t know it,” said Ken Flood, county commissioner of economic development. Mr Flood, who has been the driving force behind the Walmart plan, shook his head.

“We didn’t want to buy but events have changed a lot,” said Mr. Baer. It was a search for new space for the DSS, which has outgrown the Railroad Avenue building, that initially prompted county officials to look for new space and to buy the Ockawamick School.

“How can we entertain this kind of an idea in this kind of market?” asked Art Bassin (D-Ancram).

“Voters want to know what’s going to happen to our taxes. That’s the answer we don’t have,” said Mr. Baer.

“We need to see what we can afford,” said committee Chairman Richard Keaveney (R- Canaan). “The County Human Services Committee has gotten cutbacks in funding; Pin e Haven is getting $700,000 less and will lose over $1 million next year. How do you make that up? The HEAP program is gone,” he said.

“There’s never a good time,” said Mr. Flood. “Now is the best time to buy and develop real estate. Cement costs are low. Labor is low. Now is the cheapest time.”

The benefits of consolidation have never been systematically spelled out, and presumably that is one of the things a space study might accomplish. The fact that each county agency commissioner could have a standard size office was one thing Commissioner Flood mentioned — his office at 401 State Street had been uncomfortably cold that day — along with new business incubator space, a feature he said was favored by the QUESTAR III Boces as an opportunity for students. The need for a smaller security force was mentioned by Mr. Baer.

“If the board is willing to consolidate, in the long run, it’s the right move. If the tax levy is too big, they might say we can’t do it,” said Mr. Baer who argued in favor of a rough financial analysis, that could be available from the county comptroller by March 1, before deciding on whether to recommend the study.

The Capital Resource Corporation (CRC), which Mr. Flood chairs in addition to the IDA, paid Walmart a $50,000 refundable deposit last week to reserve for two months the right to buy the 120,000-square-foot property while the county studies costs and design possibilities.

If the Board of Supervisors decides to go ahead with the project, the CRC would purchase the property, and lease it back to the county. The CRC has already issued a request for proposals, received 11 responses and selected a planning company.

The county is not the entity pondering space options. The City of Hudson hopes to buy the 25 Railroad Avenue site and has already worked out a plan to lease the building back to the county while county officials figure out where to move the DSS. The city asked for and received a letter written by County Attorney Robert Fitzsimmons waiving the county’s right of first refusal to buy the property. But whether the letter would be enforceable remains to be seen.

Hudson Mayor Rick Scalera confirmed that the city has the letter but said, “It it doesn’t seem to matter. It’s in their agreement that they have the right to purchase. The Board of Supervisors knows that. We’ve stated it publicly numerous times. They would still have to negotiate a price with owner Tony Concra.”

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