November 30th, 2021
RE: Skate Time Purchase
Dear Supervisor Baden and Town Board Members:
The management of a small town is like the management of a small company. A well-run company has a strategic plan, solid finances and a clear path to execute its strategy. A well-run town has a comprehensive plan for a strategic plan, solid finances funded primarily by tax dollars and an elected Board whose paramount responsibility is not to burden the citizens with unnecessary taxation (manage a good budget) in “executing the strategy” while ensuring for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens by providing the necessary services for private businesses and residents to prosper.
Real estate development is not in the Town of Rochester’s strategic (comprehensive) plan. The purchase of Skate Time by the Town of Rochester is not in line with good municipal governance, not in line with fiscal prudence, not in line with the needs of the Town, does not give the citizens of the Town enough time nor data to make an informed referendum vote and is sorely lacking in analysis.
Let us go through a small portion of the unanswered questions:
Fiscal Management. It is saddening at best, irresponsible at base case not to look at the “TCO” Total Cost of Ownership for us, the taxpayers, of the Town’s purchase and management of Skate Time.
We are not done paying at the approximate $2,000,000 purchase price. We will be paying for all our and our children’s and our grandchildren’s lifetimes. Where does the money come from for renovation, rebuild and repairs? Where does the money come from the next 30 years of heat, electricity, maintenance, maintenance of the abandoned existing buildings, insurance, interest on the new debt burden of the Town, additional staff perhaps to manage the center, etc.? Another bond issue? General Operating Budget? Inevitable tax increases? The true total cost of ownership for Skate Time will be in the tens of millions of dollars.
Approximately a year ago Supervisor Baden tasked the Town’s Planning and Engineering Consultant, CPL with a study costing tens of thousands of dollars to analyze each of the Town’s buildings needed repairs and maintenance. The presentation of this can be viewed on the Town’s YouTube recordings. Where is the comparative analysis of these option versus the true all in cost of buying a warehouse (Skate Time) and moving the Town Offices? Where is the comparative analysis of the cost and benefits of other options? Our Comprehensive Plan has the goal of “better site design”. Better site design can only be done by comparing a variety of options for our Town’s capital stock.
Buying property at ostensibly a real estate top, with construction costs, both materials and labor, at historic highs, energy prices rising, Central Hudson increasing electricity rates, widespread shortages of labor and materials, and interest rates rising from all-time lows hit in January of 2021? A betting man could say pretty bad timing.
Permanently lost tax receipts to the Town from the private use of Skate Time—property and sales and perhaps other taxes. Again, this should be factored into the TCO.
Real Estate development in the private market has a plethora of tax breaks and advantageous accounting. If a private sector owner cannot make the numbers work then they work even less for a municipality that does not profit from commercial property depreciation, interest deductions, 1031 exchanges, section 1231 favorable taxation, etc. Again, this should be factored into the TCO.
The idea that the Town could “rent out” the offices vacated is a generous assumption: Offices connected to the Community Center with access to community space and kitchen? Offices attached to the Highway Department? Offices in structures designed for municipal use, not private use? Offices with IT infrastructure and internet access and security that is not state-of -the art? Offices when the region already has open office space for rent, office space that is perpetually vacant? What will it take in renovations and continued maintenance to rent as offices? Again the betting man would give a high probability of space remaining vacant.
Our comprehensive plan states “hamlet revitalization” as a goal. This would remove activity from the hamlet and “de-vitalize” the hamlet. For example, the Town has, finally, purchased and installed new playground equipment and made pickle ball courts. The Open Space Institute is embarking on a region- wide initiative to fully connect the rail trail which goes right through our existing Town Hall location/park. The Town just completed renovation of the Community Center and addition of an upgraded food pantry. We have a nice grocery on Main Street and the Town Board is looking at the development of “the Granary”. Thus, when after many years, life comes back to Main Street, and many dollars have already been spent to reinvigorate the town’s infrastructure in the Hamlet, Supervisor Baden and the Town Board decide to move everything to 209 and sap the budding energy of the hamlet? A strategic travesty.
The Town Board already has a very full plate—Economic Enterprise Overlays, wholescale retooling of zoning law, refresh of the comprehensive plan, new laws for littering and noise, 5G buildout, reassessment of tax base, and much more. A lot of very important Town management may fall by the wayside as attention is diverted to this white elephant.
Has the Town assessed the needs and demands of the community for services? What are the real demands for sports and community activities? For what sports, what activities? Is a skating rink really an inviting setting for “Tai Chi for Arthritis” or a good setting to manage and control after school activities for small children? Has the Town Board consulted the townspeople, town businesses and the Recreation Department as to what their needs are?
Further, New York Consolidated Law, Town Law Section 222 Town Buildings: “Whenever the town board, pursuant to the provisions of this chapter, shall determine to erect, construct, alter or remodel any building, said town board shall cause detailed plans, specifications and estimates for such building or buildings to be prepared. After such detailed plans, specifications and estimates shall have been finally adopted and approved, […]” and Section 223 Expense of Improvement “The expense of any public improvement made under authority of this article, shall include the amount of all contracts, the costs of all lands and interests therein necessarily acquired, printing, publishing, interest on loans, legal and engineering services and all other expenses incurred or occasioned by reason of the improvement or project. In no event shall any contract be awarded or obligation incurred in excess of the amount specified in the resolution of the town board or in the proposition adopted at the town election”. For all intents and purposes, these sections imply: do the analysis, do the comparative studies and figure out the whole cost of the project before embarking on a project and starting a referendum for new physical capital projects. The public cannot vote in good faith without all the facts and figures.
Our Town Board after receiving grant monies and under the leadership of Supervisor Baden appointed Madeline Russo, the Chair of the Town of Rochester ECC, to work to become certified as a Climate Smart Community (https://climatesmart.ny.gov/). This requires fulfilling various climate friendly actions at the local government level. Many of these actions are in complete contradiction with the purchase of essentially an “energy dumb” warehouse. For example, criteria “PE3- decrease energy usage” cites government energy audits, adopting green building standards, building a new green building and establishing financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in government owned buildings, amongst other criteria as priorities. Either the purchase of Skate Time, a thoroughly “non-green” structure is in direct conflict with the supposed Climate Smart Goals of the Town, or, alternatively, the retrofitting of the structure to meet green goals will be exorbitantly expensive. And, again, our Comprehensive Plan has the goal of “green design”, with which the re-deployment of Skate Time is at odds.
Preferential treatment of one citizen over the rest of the citizens of the Town. The mere suggestion that the seller of Skate Time could have preferential use of the facility over other townspeople after the sale and after reaping hundreds of thousands of dollars of profit from the sale is not good governance.
Health Safety and Welfare, a laundry list of unanswered questions
Skate Time is located at one of the busiest accident fraught intersections in the Town of Rochester. Current offices are calm and much safer for pedestrians, children and parking.
Has the Town Board really thought through offices with no windows; offices that may be accessed through sporting events; staffing and management of activities in concert with daily Town departmental activities; acoustics of public meetings in a skating rink, etcetera?
Where is the Town Board planning to put the Animal Shelter?
I could continue with the list of reactive poorly vetted management decisions embedded in the purchase of Skate Time. The Town Board needs to pause and reassess its legal obligations and clearly plan a strategic plan in line with our Town’s Comprehensive Plan. And the Town Board must gather the inputof the townspeople and inform the townspeople so that they truly represent the citizens that elected them. The Skate Time purchase is not in the best interest of the Town. Vote NO to the purchase of Skate Time.
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