Friday, February 10, 2012

Journalistic Malpractice at the Kingston Freeman

Does anyone at the Freeman do actual journalism anymore? Or is it simply a mouthpiece for the shadowy forces that want to take down developer Steve Aaron? Sure looks like the latter.

The Freeman has run several stories regarding back taxes Aaron has allegedly refused to pay (this assertion is absolutely false, by the way, and I'll get to that in a minute). There was this story by Paul Kirby on Dec. 13, 2011:
The Ulster County Industrial Development Agency moved on Wednesday to revoke a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes plan for developer Steve Aaron if he doesn’t pay, within four months, more than $330,000 he owes on his Birchwood Village complex in Kingston.

Aaron shot back that the threatened action smacks an “anti-affordable housing” sentiment.

Industrial Development Agency Chairman David O’Halloran said the agency knows the importance of affordable housing but needs to protect taxpayers’ interests, too.

He said the agency’s board voted unanimously on Wednesday to issue a “default notice” to Aaron informing the developer that if he does not pay the $331,236 he owes to the city under the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, plan within 120 days, the Flatbush Avenue property on which Birchwood Village sits will be assessed at full market value, resulting in standard property taxes that will cost Aaron more.

“He needs to pay all outstanding taxes under the PIOLT agreement,” O’Halloran said, adding that the agency will be aggressive in enforcing the demand for payments in light of benefits afforded to Aaron.
Read the whole thing. There isn't a single quote by Aaron. Why? They never talked to him, that's why.

Or, what about this story, also by Paul Kirby, about the $50k offer Aaron made to the City of Kingston regarding these alleged back taxes:
Mayor Shayne Gallo has rejected developer Steve Aaron’s offer to pay part of the back taxes he owes the city in exchange for Kingston granting him an additional tax break.

The mayor also hinted at beginning foreclosure proceedings against Aaron’s Birchwood Village complex if the developer doesn’t pay the $330,000 he owes the city.

In a Dec. 28 letter to then-Mayor James Sottile, attorney Kyle Barnett wrote that attorney David Lenefsky, representing Aaron, was proposing that Kingston allow Aaron to pay just $50,000 of $330,000 owed under a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement for Birchwood Village, which is on Flatbush Avenue. In return, Lenefsky proposed, Aaron would be allowed to take advantage of two tax-break programs for the property, retroactive to 2009, instead of just one.
Yep, the poor, put-upon City of Kingston is being held hostage by the mean-old developer.

And there have been several other stories in the past few days regarding Aaron's dispute with the IDA and its board chairman David O'Halloran, who is a part of the Town of Rochester cabal who wants Aaron out:
Developer Steve Aaron on Thursday paid $9,848.27 to the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency to cover legal fees tied to a dispute over back taxes he owes on his Birchwood Village affordable housing complex in Kingston.

The agency board voted on Wednesday to revoke the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, deal for Birchwood Village if Aaron did not pay the legal fees by Thursday.

But Aaron isn’t out of the woods yet. He still faces a Feb. 15 deadline to pay $76,937.37 owed for 2010 under the PILOT deal and an April 12 deadline to pay $132,523.93 for 2009 and $127,742.07 for 2011. (The 2009 and 2011 deadlines are later because they are the subject of a court challenge filed by Aaron.)
Again, the story here appears to be that the developer is just a greedy money-maker who cares only of himself. How will the ravished City of Kingston ever recover from this scourge?

The problem with this story is that is it totally, one-hundred percent wrong. The Freeman knows this. Aaron is involved in what is known as "tax certiorari" litigation to have the taxes on Birchwood Village reduced. Aaron even wrote a letter to the Kingston Times outlining the nature of the dispute:
The reported amount of payments due in lieu of taxes is based on an unlawful assessment by a former City of Kingston assessor who refused to follow the New York State Real Property Tax Law (RPTL) in reference to affordable housing projects. As a result, we have legally challenged the PILOT bills from 2009 on. Once the Kingston revaluation hit in 2008 it became clear that the taxes on the property were considerably more than could have been anticipated in estimating a PILOT payment; considerably more than the New York State Division of Housing & Community Renewal approved budget called for; and considerably more than the ability of the state rent-controlled Birchwood Village complex to pay. As a result of the acknowledged flawed revaluation, the assessor had raised the Birchwood Village assessment valuation by nearly double.
Pretty simple, ain't it? Aaron thinks the assessment is unlawful. And, ya know what? In our amazing legal system, there is a way to deal with this. You ask the taxing entity, politely at first, to reduce your taxes. If it refuses, you take it to court and have an impartial judge decide.

This alleged dispute is nothing more than that. Aaron feels his taxes are to high, which may or may not be true. This is the crux of the issue. This is not something that can be tried in the press, but should be done in an actually court of law. Aaron, whether you like him or not, has rights, people -- as do we all, and we should all sit up and take notice when a group of powerful interested trample on those rights, even if you think that the person is in the wrong. Due process.

The Freeman should stop printing this half-true garbage and do its damn homework on this stuff -- especially when it's printing falsehoods that are borderline libelous.

1 comment:

  1. Kudos Cloakroom
    Steve Aaron has been targeted by o'halloran & his evil cabal for awhile
    Aaron's good deeds go unknown cause that is how he wamts it.
    steve is a smart businessman _je is outfoxing the dim bulbs in office, good for him

    Screw dave the slumhotel man
    good luck steve yr yiddesche kup will beat these idkits.
    Vant wait!!!