Multiple news outlets are reporting that a 7,000-gallon oil spill occurred early Friday morning at First Fuel & Propane, located on Route 9H in the Town of Ghent.
It’s cute when a young child fibs. Most kids are very bad fibbers, so there is little risk of them fooling anyone. Plus their motives are usually harmless, and their alibis often hilarious. (“Did you eat all the cookies, Billy?” —No, the goldfish did.)
The same can’t be said of grown men, especially grown men being paid upwards of $150/hour out of public funds... So what’s the excuse of Andy Howard, the former County Attorney turned lawyer for the Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC)?
At this week’s CEDC meeting, Howard told an obvious whopper. During Tuesday’s meeting, the topic came up once again of Hillsdale Supervisor Art Baer’s request for legal confirmation that CEDC’s $1 land deal with Ginsberg’s food was aboveboard—free of any conflict of interest.
Previously, CEDC (via Howard) had declined to issue the certification Baer requested, vaguely claiming that the request was too vague.
But this time, Howard took things a step further, grossly embellishing the nature of Baer’s written inquiry. This misleading colloquy sounds a lot like an attempt to gin up fake outrage among the CEDC’s elite membership, who in the past have expressed reluctance to comply with ethics disclosure, training and oversight.
CEDC Board member Scott Wood raised the matter of the “letter from Supervisor Baer asking us to review the legality of certain issues we had done. And we had discussed it on here with our counsel, and we believed that everything we had done was legal and in conformity.”
But though Wood felt CEDC had fully responded—an opinion shared by few outside observers— he expressed surprise that another Supervisor found the response “evasive,” and wondered what they could do to clear up the matter.
That’s when Wood turned things over to Howard, who says:
You received a general request for a legal opinion that everything this Board has done has been legal and ethical standards. Not specifically with Ginsberg’s, not specifically with anything… It seemed very ambiguous and vague.
In fact, Baer’s request was hardly general, and was not aimed at “everything” CEDC had ever done. Rather, it specifically and narrowly dealt just with the Ginsberg’s land transaction.
The subject line of Baer’s August email inquiry was:
Ginsberg Land Sale
The body of the message featured a formal request for “a legal opinion from CEDC counsel and/or the County Attorney that all ethic and legal guidelines have been followed in this proposed transaction” [emphasis added].
The purpose of the request was clear to CEDC executive director Ken Flood, who spelled it out just as explicitly in an early September memo to Howard (attached here). Flood noted that CEDC “has received a formal request for a legal opinion that all ethic [sic] and legal guidelines have been followed in the proposed land transaction between CEDC and Ginsberg’s” and sought Howard’s response.
And indeed, at that time it seemed Howard understood the narrowness of the request. Two days after Flood’s memo was sent, Howard himself referenced Baer’s specific request about “the proposed land transaction between CEDC and Ginsberg’s.” While refusing to provide the assurance sought by Baer, Howard then proceeds to discuss details of that deal—and no other CEDC business.
Does that mean I start and look at each and every one of your appointments, to see if you were legally appointed? Does that mean I go to Lisa and look at every one of the legal notices, since I was appointed?
“We should be done with this!” Bartolotta is heard to exclaim on Cusano’s recording, followed by a loud sigh. (Earlier, Bartolotta said of the County’s request for reimbursement of $109,950 paid for the land that “it just makes me crazy... It’s just ridiculous!”
Wood suggests that CEDC “should take the offensive… Maybe that is a strong word… Take the initiative… Relying on counsel’s affirmation that we have been doing things correctly.”
A voice which sounds like CEDC Board member Mike Vertetis derisively says that responding further won’t “quiet the chance to run off at the lip a bit in front of the paper.”
CEDC Board member Greg Fingar chimes in that Baer and [Ancram Supervisor Art] Bassin are “both retired,” so they should be able to attend meetings. Bartolotta demands to know whether the two are up for re-election next year, echoing an insinuation from a previous meeting by CEDC President David Crawford—and Ginsberg’s project engineer—that “this is all political.”
Perhaps more illuminating than Howard’s whopper is that the rest of the CEDC Board did not utter a word of correction, though Baer’s specific request has been widely reported and commented upon in the past few months.
In an email circulated to his Board colleagues last week, Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin called for the resignation of David Crawford, President of the Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC).
Crawford’s engineering and planning firm, Crawford & Associates, is handling permitting and engineering work for Ginsberg’s Foods’ proposal for a 300,000-square-foot facility in Ghent and Claverack, which has received substantial financial and marketing support from CEDC.
David Ginsberg preceded Crawford as President of CEDC, remaining on its Board (according to its minutes) until October 2013, well after the agency had decided to apply for $1.5 million in funding for the Ginsberg project. Ginsberg’s Food also has had a $400,000, 1%-interest loan from CEDC; the loans term overlapped the tenures of both Ginsberg and Crawford. Finally, CEDC has come under fire for voting to give 33 acres of land to Ginsberg’s for just $1.
Bassin’s email calling for Crawford’s resignation treats the controversy about the Ginsberg’s project as mostly a perception problem needing a cosmetic fix, writing that
The negative reactions to the Ginsberg project seem to be related to the apparent conflicts of interest associated with Mr. Ginsberg’s past role on the CEDC board, and Mr. Crawford's current role as both chair of the CEDC Board and president of the engineering firm advising Mr. Ginsberg on the project.
In this context, the proposal from CEDC to sell the 33 acres for $1 and the 1% $400,000 loan made years ago to Ginsberg's has triggered ethics and legal concerns, and has exposed the project to additional scrutiny.
Chairman Grattan’s letter suggesting CEDC repay the County for the $114,000 County cost of the 33 acres, and his decision to chair a special committee to review the relationship between the County and CEDC, are steps in the right direction, but do not go far enough to clear the air surrounding this project.
While CEDC Executive Director Ken Flood has claimed that Crawford stayed out of all votes and discussions about the Ginsberg’s project, the agency’s minutes suggest otherwise. Meanwhile, CEDC has rebuffed a written request from Hilldale Supervisor Art Baer that CEDC provide a legal opinion verifying that the $1 transaction meets ethical muster.
In addition to having Crawford resign, Bassin proposes two additional steps:
Opposition to the land deal and concern about an additional $660,000 property tax break pending before the County Industrial Development Agency has spread from neighbors, taxpayers, citizens organizations and independent news sites to the editorial boards of both of the County’s print newspapers, The Register-Star and Columbia Paper.
Opposition has also come from two neighboring farms, whose owners have apparently filed an Article 78 against the Ghent and Claverack Planning Boards.
As the issue has heated up, BOS chair Pat Grattan has called for the company to reimburse the County for its land purchase at the 1997 price of $109,950 (plus related costs), which would amount to only 40% of the land’s current appraised and assessed values. Another recent applicant to CEDC, a local farm, was required to borrow $50,000 for a piece of land nearly six times smaller than the Ginsberg’s plot, and pay 10% interest on the loan.
Members of the Ginsberg clan have told this site and other sources that they do not intend to pay for the land, harrumphing that opposition to the project will not diminish even if they do.
The Columbia County Board of Supervisors does not directly control CEDC. But several Supervisors serve as trustees, and the bulk of its funding comes from the County.
Food company has the largest of 50 agency loans—and pays the lowest interest rate
The picture of the extraordinary package of public assistance which Ginsberg’s Foods has garnered over the years keeps getting larger.
In addition to more than $2 million in new government incentives to expand, and a previous PILOT tax deal about to expire, the company is now in the final year of a $400,000 loan from Columbia Economic Development Corporation.
According to a CEDC loan table obtained by this site, that amount is the largest of 50 current loans to area businesses by the agency.
Ginsberg’s 1% interest rate also stands out as the lowest paid by any of the 50 current loanees listed on the chart, dated 30 September 2014. By contrast, more than half of the other loan recipients are paying between 7% and 8.5% interest. Only 5 of the 50 recipients pay less than 5% interest, with none paying less than 2% other than Ginsberg’s.
As noted here previously, the Albany Business Review pegged Ginsberg’s revenues at $142,000,000 in 2013, suggesting that there was no urgent need to charge the company much less interest than other recipients.
Moreover, half of CEDC’s other current loans are for $25,000 or less. The next largest loan after the $400,000 for Ginsberg’s is $284,000 to a Livingston dairy operation. The third largest is $150,000 to a food business in Ancramdale. Those businesses are paying 5% and 6% interest, respectively.
The 10-year term of the Ginsberg’s loan is also tied for second longest on the table. One other distribution business has a 15-year loan for $100,000. Three other businesses have a 10-year loan. More than three-quarters of the loanees have terms of 6 years or less.
The loan was initiated in 2005, and appears to partially overlap with the tenure of David Ginsberg as President of CEDC. Ginsberg stepped down from that post in 2010, but remained on the board of CEDC until shortly before the State approved a $1.5 million assistance package in late
The grant application and permitting for the project was initiated while Ginsberg was still serving on CEDC, along with the head of the engineering firm for the company’s expansion project in Ghent and Claverack.
The company has also requested a second Payment in Lieu of Tax plan from the County IDA. According to a report in The Register-Star, that new PILOT would save Ginsberg’s some $700,000 in local taxes, for example to the Taconic Hills School District. It is not known how much the previous PILOT netted the company in savings.
Both CEDC and the IDA share Ken Flood as their executive director. Flood was hired to fill those roles, as well as director of Columbia County Planning, when Ginsberg was still head of CEDC
Stark contradiction in Flood and Crawford statements
Recently-circulated minutes of the Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) inadvertantly expose the agency’s growing perception problem regarding conflicts-of-interest among its members and staff.
Scrutiny has focused on CEDC Board President David Crawford’s dual role as the principal of Crawford & Associates Engineering (which is the engineering firm for the Ginsberg’s Foods expansion project along the border of Ghent and Claverack), as well as former Board President David Ginsberg’s influence.
Approved at yesterday’s Board meeting, the minutes for its previous August 26th gathering quote Executive Director Kenneth J. Flood on the topic of Crawford’s participation on the Ginsberg $1.5 million grant and $1 land deal:
“Mr. Flood stated to the best of his knowledge, Mr. Crawford had not taken part in any discussion or vote regarding the Ginsberg’s project.”
However, the following pages of the same minutes document examples of Crawford participating in such discussions.
In a Board debate about the hiring of Behan Communications to assist with p.r. for the Ginsberg project and to improve CEDC’s image, the minutes state:
“Mr. Crawford gave the Ginsberg’s project as an example, noting the public relations had room for improvement.”
Earlier minutes also show Crawford on the record about Ginsberg’s during Board meetings. For example, CEDC’s June 2014 minutes state that
“Mr. Crawford noted that Ginsberg’s was well on their way to completion. He noted Behan could use Ginsberg’s as a CEDC accomplishment.”
Behan Communications, by the way, is also the p.r. company for TCI of NY, the PCB-processor whose Ghent facility exploded two summers ago, forcing County residents to stay inside for much of a summer day. Crawford’s engineering firm also likewise worked for TCI. Other Board members not directly connected to Ginsberg’s, such as former Independent publisher Tony Jones, have questioned the $10,000 retainer of Behan, which was intially greenlighted—reportedly by Flood and Crawford—without Board approval.
Later, the minutes’ account of a discussion of the conflict-of-interest question raised by Hillsdale Supervisor Art Baer again cites Crawford participating in a matter related to Ginsberg’s. Development czar Flood reported that
“Supervisor [Baer] had not backed down from his request for a formal legal opinion about the land transaction as well as a statement stating there was no conflict of interest by any Board member. Mr. Crawford stated this was all due to politics.”
Meeting in private, the minutes further state that the $1 sale to Ginsberg’s of 33 acres acquired by the County for $109,500 had been voted upon by the CEDC Executive Committee. After the meeting, this site was told by Board member Mary Bartolotta that the Executive Committee includes Crawford.
(Though it involves more than two members of a public body as defined in New York State Open Meetings Law, the Executive Committee does not provide notice of its meetings, and no minutes of its meetings are taken, according to a Board member speaking on condition of anonymity. As a result, there is no known record of whether Crawford participated in the above-mentioned Executive Committee discussion and vote.)
Ginsberg’s Food co-owner David Ginsberg was formerly the President of CEDC until 2010, remaining as a Board member until just two months before the application submitted by CEDC was approved by the Cuomo administration.
As also reported here, a source familiar with the process for hiring Ken Flood says that Ginsberg took the lead on the hiring process. At minimum, there appears to have been an overlap between the last year of his Board Presidency and the hiring of Flood as CEDC director. Flood has since been at the forefront of promoting and securing grant funding, tax incentives, and other benefits for Ginsberg’s Foods.
The conflict of interest issues raised by Baer, which the Executive Committee and its attorney have declined to address, clearly do not appear to come as surprise to CEDC members. The minutes of its October 2013 meeting reported that:
“Mr. Flood stated he had to hire a consultant to write the expedited application in order to submit it on time to have the [Ginsberg] project reviewed... Ms. Bartolotta asked it to be clarified in the formal meeting minutes that David Ginsberg of Ginsberg’s Foods had resigned in the beginning of the month.”
The May 2014 minutes likewise record Crawford as actively promoting the hiring of Behan by CEDC to assist Ginsberg’s, which originally was going to carry the cost of public relations itself. Crawford explicitly tied the image of the Board and Ginsberg’s together:
“Mr. Crawford stated that he and Mr. Bohnsack had met with Ginsbergs at the beginning of their project to encourage them to hire a public relations firm [to] head off any issues. He stated Ginsbergs had stated they would do their public relations in house. Mr. Crawford stated he was now encouraging CEDC to hire a public relations firm to get CEDC’s mission out to the public... He stated this should include the message about Ginsberg’s. ... Several board members cautioned against using the public relations company for only Ginsberg’s, noting it should be iused for the advancement of CEDC. Mr. Crawford asked for a motion to obtain a proposal from Behan Communications not to exceed $10,000.
The May minutes then state that “Mr. Fingar made the motion, which was seconded by Colinn Stair and passed unanimously.” No absentions were noted in the minutes, by either Crawford or anyone else.
Subsequent minutes show that staff of CEDC went ahead and signed a contract with Behan before the Board ever saw a proposal. By July, Crawford was backtracking on his original reason for hiring Behand, now claiming in that month’s minutes that “the firm had been hired to do general public relations and not specifically for Ginsberg’s.”
(NOTE: The minutes quoted above were all unanimously approved by the full Board, which includes Crawford et al. assuming they were in attendance.)
One group of people that Ginsberg’s Food Vice President John Brusie was not able to photograph during Wednesday’s IDA public hearing: The County IDA board itself.
Out of six members, only one (James Mackerer) bothered to show up for their own meeting, ostensibly held to hear the views of the public. Chair Bruce Bohnsack, vice chair Sid Richter, Secretary-Treasuer Don Kline, plus Board members Robert Galluscio and Robert Stickles were all missing.
Instead, the Board was represented by attorney Ted Guterman (who ran the meeting) and IDA Executive Director Ken Flood, who was almost entirely silent... But who spent much of the hearing making long faces and rolling his eyes along with Mr. Brusie, who was seated across from him in the front row.
After this glaring absence was pointed out, Guterman tried to reassure the audience that the missing board members would be provided transcripts. This did not seem to mollify the audience, as anyone who has ever attended such hearings understands that reading a transcript is no substitute for attendance. One misses not only the nuances of each speaker’s presentation, but also the audience reactions, side comments, etc.
The audience also noted another absence at the meeting: David and Nancy Ginsberg.
Ginsberg’s Foods Vice President of Operations John Brusie was observed snapping photographs of residents speaking in opposition to the company’s Payment in Lieu of Tax (PILOT) application to the Columbia County IDA.
Ghent resident Jefferson Snider was the first to mention out loud what many others in the audience had noticed during the Wednesday public hearing: That Brusie, the son of Ginsberg’s co-owner Nancy Fuller Ginsberg, was using a gold-cased cameraphone to take pictures of various speakers.
Toward the end of the hearing, Snider specifically questioned why this was being done, after which Brusie appeared to stop taking the photos. (After that point, however, pretty much all the remaining commenters had already spoken earlier as well, and thus had already had their pictures taken.)
Brusie did not explain the purpose of the photographs, but participants gathered afterward agreed that the action came across as a possible attempt to intimidate speakers.
Patti Matheney of GhentCANN dropped a bombshell at this morning's public hearing about the Ginsberg Payment in Lieu of Tax (PILOT) plan.
County officials have repeatedly left the impression that the 33 acres being sold to Ginsberg's Foods for $- was “inherited” by the county. As a result, press reports (such as an editorial questioning the deal in the Register-Star) dutifully repeated this language, giving the sense that there hadn't been much if any cost associated with the land acquisition.
But public records obtained by Matheney, Christine Jones and close neighbors of the proposed facility tell a very different story.
In fact, the County’s development arm paid $109,950 in 1997 to acquire the acreage from the Ribley estate.
Confronted with this evidence, as well as the presence of a surviving Ribley family member, County economic czar Ken Flood claimed that he had always known that the Columbia Economic Development Corporation had paid that price. If others had reported differently, he argued, they must have misquoted him.
But nowhere in minutes of the CEDC’s recent meetings, nor in published reports, does the $110,000 number crop up. Indeed, given the heat that Flood and the agency has taken for the $1 sale, the County has had every reason to fudge its descriptions of the acquisition.
The Register-Star stated on August 2nd that the land had been “inherited.” If Flood or anyone else in County government objected to that description, it doesn’t appear they bothered to ask the paper for a correction, because the Register used the same word again on August 26. Meanwhile, Hudson 1st Ward Supervisor Sarah Sterling stated at the public hearing that though she was on the CEDC board, had attended all of its recent meetings, and actually voted for the land transfer, she had never heard about the $110,000 price tag.
Muddy language like “inherited” has misled people into assuming that no cash was involved in the original purchase, making the $1 sale seem less outrageous. The Ribley’s spokesperson politely but firmly described the County’s prior statements as “falsehoods.”
Ghent resident Jeff Snider, quipped that he’d be willing to buy the land instead for $100.
Apparent conflicts of interest raise eyebrows even among supporters
The maneuvers and machinations behind the Ginsberg’s Foods deal—resulting in some $2 million in public fundings and tax credits—strike many local observers as irregular at best.
Ginsberg family members and employees have touted the company’s longevity, local roots and continued “investment in the community” as reasons for the company to benefit from substantial County largesse and indulgence from town permitting agencies.
To a large extent, both have rolled over and given Ginsberg’s everything they’ve asked for, from public handouts to multiple zoning variances.
But while development officials have voiced a shining appreciation for the employment provided by Ginsberg’s, such testimonials seem tarnished by a growing sense that inside government influence has been used to achieve a private company’s expansion goals.
Below is an inventory of some of the more dubious ways in which this deal has been advanced. Taken together, these raise the questions: Why should a highly successful company, with a massive cashflow and presumably healthy profits, need the public to underwrite its expansion? And: Is it really appropriate for County agency board members with close ties to Ginsberg’s to be going to bat on its behalf?
(1) Ken’s Conflict. The main public booster of Ginsberg’s expansion has been County economic development czar Kenneth J. Flood. But Flood appears to owe a significant professional debt of gratitude to the top dog at Ginsberg’s.
According to sources familiar with the search to fill the job eventually landed by Flood, that search was led by none other David Ginsberg himself. At the time of Flood’s appointment, Ginsberg was the President of the Columbia Economic Development Corporation, and apparently was responsible for both the interviewing and the ultimate selection of candidates.
The search resulted in Flood assuming the titles of Executive Director of CEDC, Commissioner of Columbia County Planning/Economic Development, and Executive Director of the Columbia County IDA.
If true, Flood would not only would appear to be helping out the guy who hired him, but is heading an agency with direct financial dealings with that person’s firm. Audits of the IDA, conducted by the politically-connected accounting firm of Pattison Koskey Howe & Bucci, show G’s Best Realty listed under the agency’s Projects, Exemptions and Payment in Lieu of Tax programs. G’s Best Realty is understood to be a real estate holding company for Ginsberg’s Foods, sharing the same address (Box 17 Route 66, Hudson NY 12534) and appearing on some of its applications.
(2) David’s Dual Role. About a year after hiring Flood, Ginsberg relinquished the Presidency of CEDC in the Spring of 2010. But he remained on the CEDC board for several more years. It appears the company’s expansion plans were not only well known, but also actively advocated by the agency, well before Ginsberg finally stepped down entirely from that board.
Flood told the Register-Star in July 2013 that “the company has expressed interest in potential assistance from the Columbia County Industrial Development Agency and Columbia Economic Development Corporation”—two of the three agencies Flood had been hired to direct.
Indeed, there is evidence that Flood knew of Ginsberg’s plans even earlier than that. The minutes of CEDC’s June 18th, 2013 meeting note that Consolidated Funding Applications (CFAs) to the State were due by August 12th. Flood states in the minutes that several CFAs would be submitted, including the “Ginsberg’s expansion.”
At the CEDC’s August 2013 meeting, a conversation to discuss the Board’s Code of Ethics occurred. The meeting minutes note that “The Board expressed dissatisfaction with the inability to loan to a company due to the fact that the owner was a Board Member.”
No specific company or Board Member was specified. But David Ginsberg resigned from the board shortly thereafter, sometime between CEDC’s September and October meetings—and just before the State approved a package of more than $1.5 million in tax credits and funding for Ginsberg’s in late November. In the December press release, Flood praises Ginsberg’s Foods without acknowledging any prior relationship or obligation to the former president of CEDC.
(3) Crawford’s Connections. Succeeding Ginsberg as CEDC President was another David—David Crawford, the head honcho of the Hudson-based engineering and planning firm Crawford & Associates.
Crawford’s firm has represented Ginsberg’s efforts to obtain permits before the various Claverack and Ghent boards reviewing its expansion plans, even as CEDC has gone to bat for the company. The abovementioned $1.5 million funding applications appear to have been submitted during Crawford’s (ongoing) tenure as President of CEDC.
Crawford has also used his role as CEDC boss to speak up for his client’s interests in more purely symbolic ways. At its the same May board meeting, “Mr. Crawford stated it was appropriate for the Board to honor Mr. Ginsberg” and “presented Mr. Ginsberg with a trophy as a token of thanks.” The minutes do not disclose what the trophy cost, or what shape it took. (A cornucopia, maybe?)
(The main Crawford & Associates spokesperson at meetings about the project has been Brandee Nelson, who has elsewhere been rumored to be the odds-on “favorite” to unseat County Department of Public Works honcho David Robinson.)
(4) Spinning Ginsberg’s. Meanwhile, Crawford recently pushed for a public relations firm to be hired to help get its message out, including “the message about Ginsberg’s”—again, his client.
According to the May 2014 CEDC minutes, a motion was passed to seek “a proposal from Behan Communications.” Behan is in turn connected with Crawford Associates and at least one other CEDC board member, attorney Bill Better. Both Crawford and Better have performed high-profile work for TCI of NY, the former Ghent PCB processor whose Falls Road facility infamously exploded several summers ago, causing a widespread lockdown and the installation of an emergency notification system.
Despite the Board only approving the solicitation of a “proposal” from Behan, at the next month’s meeting Flood revealed that he had already started working with Behan.
This revelation caused board member Tony Jones, former publisher of The Independent, to express his “confusion,” goven that “only a proposal and not a contract had been authorized by the board vote.” Crawford jumped in that “Behan could use Ginsberg’s as a CEDC accomplishment” to help burnish the misunderstood agency’s image. (Once again: Ginsberg is Crawford’s client, and both Crawford and Better rubbed elbows with Behan while they all worked for TCI.)
Despite the evident consternation among several more independent CEDC members, at the following meeting Mr. Crawford announced that “Behan had been hired.”
Minutes of the August meeting have not been published yet online, but attendees report that Crawford and Flood have already gone ahead with spending $4,000 of a potential $10,000 retainer with Behan, though the CEDC board still had not authorized the hiring of any P.R. firm... It is not clear if Behan had a hand in placing the recent, fawning profile of David Ginsberg in the Register-Star.
(5) Land Grab. Another tasty morsel in the Ginsberg Goodie Bag is the County’s plan to “sell” them 33 acres of developable, vacant farmland along Route 66 for the princely sum of $1. Ken Flood told the media that “we had an appraisal done two months ago, and the appraised value is $280,000.” A public hearing on the gift is scheduled for today (Wednesday) at 10 am at the West Ghent Fire House on Route 9H near Kozel’s.
But other land owned by CEDC is hardly given away for a sawbuck. For example, at its May 2014 meeting, the Board approved the sale of 5.8 acres—about half of it wetland—to Tierra Farm. The price? $50,000, loaned at the extravagant rate of 10% interest for 5 years. The company promised to create 25 new jobs, roughly half of Ginsberg’s estimate.
So why was Tierra Farm required to pay $50,000 and 10% interest, while Ginsberg paid $1 and got $1.5 million in credits and grant funding? The minutes do not say. Flood has spun the giveaway by saying that his agency heard of no interest in the land after years of it sitting empty. But this appears to be more a reflection on CEDC and the IDA’s inept-to-nonexistent marketing efforts than on its real worth.
(6) Corporate Blackmail? In spite of his longtime official role as a booster of Columbia County development, David Ginsberg has made a point of threatening to move his company elsewhere, if the County does not support its expansion with funding.
Before State funding was obtained, rumors ran rampant (spread by whom?) that Ginsberg’s was mulling the idea of moving to Rensselaer or Berkshire counties. Even recently, as Ginsberg’s has racked up benefits and approvals, Ginsberg told the Register-Star:
“(People) offered to sit down and talk to me about the incentives about going somewhere else,... It’s not like I need to be here. I could be 25 miles in any direction and continue the same business model I presently have.”
(7) The $220,000,000 question. So is it worth it to spend about $2 million? That same Reg-Star article noted that “nearly 60 percent of the company’s approximately 260 employees are current Columbia County residents, he added, with the proposed expansion yielding anywhere from 50 to 75 new jobs.”
That would indicate that Ginsberg’s currently employees approximately 156 local residents, with the number climbing to something like 200 in Columbia County if the expansion goes through.
Now, according to the New York State Department of Labor, there are 21,800 people filling nonfarm jobs in Columbia County as of June 2014.
This means that Ginsberg’s provides less than 1% of the employment in the county. If every local business were to receive grants and tax credits in the same proportion to Ginsberg’s based on the number of jobs each provides, the County and State would have to pony up more than $220,000,000.
At the end of the day, even those who might hope to keep Ginsberg’s Foods locally have to wonder: Why all the handouts to a huge business which is said to have revenues in the tens of millions? Can't Ginsberg’s afford to pay its own way?
After 100+ years, doesn’t Ginsberg’s have the assets and credit to get a low-interest loan of its own, without reaching into the pockets of State or County taxpayers? Why should a small farm pay $50,000 and 10% interest on 6 acres, while Ginsberg’s gets 33 acres for a measly dollar?
When even the conservative-coddling Register-Star blasts the deal, it’s a sign that County insiders may finally have gone too far. The Register wrote that “most [residents] will not benefit from Ginsberg's multi-million dollar investment,” and that the handling of the land deal and PILOT leave an “impression that the deal with Ginsberg's is not above board.”
Columbia County Board of Supervisor chair Patrick Grattan has moved oversight of the Board’s Airport Committee into the hands of a former committee member who played hooky from over 70% of its meetings.
Via email, Grattan announced that he was moving the same committee from which New Lebanon Supervisor Michael Benson resigned in a huff—after rarely showing up, and not getting his way—into Benson’s portfolio:
TO: Airport Committee & Public Works Committee
It has been brought to my attentions [sic] that there is a question regarding the status of the Airport Committee.
First, let me thank all the members for their hard work on this issue. I know that this issue was very complicated and, at times, contentious. I respect your patience and understanding during the process.
The County has several subcommittees: Negotiations, Salary Study, Pine Haven, Central Business Office, Labor Management and DSS Renovations. All report to Finance and each report to their Home Committee (ie: DSS Renovations reports to the DSS Human Services, the Pine Haven subcommittee reports to the Health and Medical Services).
The Airport in some instances could report to Economic Development, County Government or Public Works.
Since the County Public Works Department & Facilities maintains and improves the Airport, the Airport subcommittee should report to Public Works.
The Airport subcommittee has performed two very valuable tasks: one, it has given the Airport the attention it deserves and has increased everyone’s understanding of the uses, functions, economics and future of the Airport. Two, it has provided a forum for the residents of the Town of Ghent, the general public and media to discuss issues in a focused manner.
Again, I thank all of you for your good work and your continued efforts.
In addition to his many absences, Benson was repeatedly outvoted by his peers on airport issues, and showed a remarkable inconsistency in his positions—not to mention an immunity to absorbing facts presented by his fellow Supervisors, let alone by the public. Yet now Grattan has put oversight of that committee into the hands of its (former) member who showed very least interest in its business.
Ancram supervisor Art Bassin, who has chaired the committee, says that he has not decided whether to remain as Chair of the Committee-turned-Subcommittee, and does not know whether Benson intends to invite him to do so.
Appearing to confirm its departure from the Town of Ghent, PCB-processor TCI of NY has withdrawn its application to following its catastrophic fire two summers ago.
The company also (per the memo below) has withdrawn a specious lawsuit against the Town’s Planning Board, claiming that the Board could not regulate a rebuild.
TCI is already embroiled in zoning controversies in its new location, across the river in Coeymans, whose residents may want to be on their guard—each of TCI’s past three facilities (Ghent, Greenport and Newburgh) exploded.
For more than a decade, officials have privately mulled changes to the Columbia County airport. Over the past year, contentious public debate raged at over a dozen meetings about how to bring the Ghent facility into compliance with safety regulations. But just this week, a surprise suggestion from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may have rendered all of these arguments and explorations moot.
According to sources familiar with a conference call this week between the FAA and the County Airport Committee, the Feds suggested a radically simple bureaucratic solution: Just reclassify the airport into a category requiring a much shorter Runway Safety Area (RSA).
Due to the airport handling less than 500 jet operations per year, it is apparently eligible to downgrade its classification to a level which needs only a 300-foot RSA, not 1,000 feet.
The longer 1,000-foot requirement has been the key factor driving endless controversy about compliance. For most of last year, and also in the decade previous, the County devoted substantial time and resources to assessing whether to acquire additional land via purchase or eminent domain from Meadowgreens, or else to shorten or shift the runway away from the golf course’s border.
The stunningly quick-and-dirty solution reportedly proposed by the FAA would mean the County could meet the RSA requirements using the existing 200 feet of space between the north end of the runway, plus reducing the overall length by another 100 feet to 5,250. By contrast, the compromise “Porreca Plan” approved by the County recently would have shortened the runway to about 5,000 feet, and involved construction costs on the southern end.
The FAA’s idea might still require the County to acquire some avigation easements from Meadowgreens to ensure that obstructions do not permeate aircrafts’ approach zone. Or perhaps a hybrid of the Porreca Plan and the FAA solution (reclassification plus the 5,000-foot declared distance) would further reduce or eliminate that remaining obstacle.
This seemingly positive outcome does raise one sticky question: Why wasn’t this option identified sooner by either the County’s highly-paid consultants at C&S, or its various Development and Public Works staff, or its Committee members, or the FAA itself?
This observer can’t help but think it might have something to do with pride—officials not wanting to admit what citizens had constantly pointed out, that there is very little jet activity at the Richmor-managed facility.