Colleagues see plan as more costly than committee’s proposal
HUDSON—The specter of Ockawamick was invoked at the March 12 Airport Committee meeting.
“We don’t want to do another Ockawamick,” said Supervisor Art Bassin (D-Ancram), chair of the committee, as that group and the audience discussed two new proposals made by Supervisor Michael Benson (R-New Lebanon) to buy the most or all of the Meadowgreens Golf Course property on Route 9H, north of the county airport.
In 2008 Columbia County purchased the 24-acre former Ockawamick School property on Route 217 in Claverack for $1.5 million. The plan was to house the Department of Social Services and other county agencies there, but public resistance to moving social services out of the City of Hudson, and the costs of rehabbing the 1952 school building, quashed the plans. Nothing else has worked out for the property, and the aging building is now used for storage. In November 2013 the county Board of Supervisors accepted an appraisal of $700,000 for the property.
“We already own 350 acres [at the airport] that are underutilized,” said Mr. Bassin.
Nevertheless, when Mr. Bassin polled the committee members, all but one agreed with him to take another month and consider Mr. Benson’s proposals. The exception was Supervisor John Porrreca (R-Greenport), who first introduced the solution that the committee was ready to adopt, to move the airport south and shorten the runway by 350 feet.
“No!” Mr. Porreca said to postponement. “I’m saving the taxpayers money. This is 11th-hour crap. I say no.” Many in the SRO audience applauded.
Just hours before the start of the meeting, at which committee members had expected to vote on a proposal for a runway safety zone that had been developed over months of public meetings, Mr. Benson circulated by email two new proposals: one to buy 100 acres of the Meadowgreens property for $1.35 million, the other to buy the entire 150 acres of the property for $1.65 million.
These proposals were, in essence, what Carmen Nero, managing member of the group that owns Meadowgreens, and his attorney, Paul Freeman, had pitched to the Airport Committee at meetings on February 12 and 24. The difference was that Mr. Nero proposed that the county lease the land back to him for development and continuation of the golf course, and Mr. Benson proposed that the county own the land outright and close the golf course.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea for the county to be in a long-term relationship with the current ownership,” said Mr. Benson. “A straight purchase is preferable.”
He also reiterated, as had Mr. Nero before him, that the federal and state governments would pay 95% of the cost, leaving the county to cover the remaining 5%. He estimated his first proposal would cost a total of $2.4 million, with the county’s share coming to $122,500. His second proposal, which includes buying all the land, comes in at $2.7 million, with the county paying $137,500 of that amount.
Mr. Porreca’s plan is estimated to cost a total $3 million.
Mr. Nero had previously rejected the county’s offer of $629,000 for a section of his land and the costs associated with reconfiguring the parts of the golf course affected by the purchase. When Supervisor Art Baer (D-Hillsdale) asked what would happen if Mr. Nero refused to sell for these latest prices, Mr. Benson replied, “This plan requires that the landowner sign onto sale of the land based on appraisals.” He produced a March 12 letter addressed to him from “the landowner’s attorney” agreeing to the terms.
Members of the committee and the audience questioned Mr. Benson’s estimates of the costs for his proposals , which were less than half what the county’s engineering consultant had proposed. In response, Mr. Benson questioned the consultant’s numbers.
After the meeting Mr. Bassin emailed his own evaluation of Mr. Benson’s proposal, saying that not only had Mr. Benson understated construction costs by about $450,000, but he had also neglected to include costs for appraisals, an environmental study, design and construction inspection costs and tree removal.
Mr. Bassin went on to write that Mr. Benson had not included the loss of property tax revenue if the county ended up owning the property, an amount he set at about $1.2 million over the next 40 years, nor had Mr. Benson accounted for about $1.2 million in lost sales tax revenue over the same period.
At the meeting Mr. Benson had said that lease payments for the Meadowgreens land would make up for lost tax revenue.
Factoring in lost taxes, the total Benson Plan cost for 150 acres was $6.1 million, wrote Mr. Bassin, about twice as much as the Porreca Plan. At press time, Mr. Benson had not replied in public to Mr. Bassin’s March 16 email.
The Airport Committee meets next on Monday, March 24 at 3 p.m. at 401 State Street. At that time, wrote Mr. Bassin, the committee “will review the available numbers and decide whether to support the Porecca Plan Resolution or to further explore the Benson Plans.”