Schenectady County

Brownfields changes get OK

Companies that agree to clean up and reuse polluted sites in New York will still get a break on thei
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Companies that agree to clean up and reuse polluted sites in New York will still get a break on their taxes, but property owners won’t under several last-minute agreements struck on Monday’s last scheduled day of the 2008 legislative session.

Lawmakers agreed to revise the state’s brownfield program to clean up and redevelop commercial sites. But several proposals have eluded a late agreement. Among them is Paterson’s call for a 4 percent cap on local property taxes, most of them school taxes.

Legislative leaders have sided with the state’s powerful teachers unions and other public unions that have opposed the cap, saying school districts would suffer. Officials also failed to agree on proposals to reduce fuel costs, end a practice by sex predator teachers used against students, and government reforms.

A Siena College poll last week found 74 percent of New Yorkers supported Paterson’s tax cap.

Paterson argues New York has the highest property taxes in the nation and the state needs to force school districts to make hard decisions. Paterson said lawmakers will continue to work on the proposal, but he doubted a change could be made this session.

On brownfields legislation, Paterson said companies will get tax credits covering half the cost of cleaning a site to the point it can be redeveloped. The current reimbursement is 22 percent, based on the value of a project.

“It creates a connection between what is the remediation of a site and the redevelopment of the site,” Paterson said. “It puts a cap on the cost connecting the remediation to the redevelopment and, finally, it saves us from developers who would charge us huge sums of money for relatively small remediation costs.”

The measure — intended to protect the environment while attracting more jobs — has eluded agreement for years.

While the plan was to help the environment and stimulate the upstate economy, many tax breaks were going to lucrative hotel developments in Manhattan and Westchester rather than replacing crumbling factories with affordable housing in upstate cities.

Lawmakers and Paterson also agreed to give patients more information about their physicians and strengthen state oversight of doctors. The bill will allow the Office of Professional Medical Conduct to review more information about the doctors they investigate, including malpractice claims, criminal sentences and drug or alcohol abuse.

“We think it’s important legislation that will save people’s lives,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “It will boost the state’s ability to monitor physicians and take action if they are dangerous.”

Lawmakers also agreed to give parents and guardians more information on the care of their disabled children and more clearly define abuse for those in residential care.

They also agreed to provide some mental health records of applicants for federal firearms licenses not previously allowed. The data will include whether an applicant ever received residential mental health care. The Virginia Tech University massacre more than a year ago prompted the changes.

The leaders also approved an aid package for a planned $1 billion resort in the Catskills with gambling, golf and a spa that advocates say will revitalize the area.

About 2,000 permanent jobs are expected to be created, said Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.

Westchester County developer Louis Cappelli wants to build a massive resort on the site of the Borscht Belt’s old Concord Hotel that would include the video lottery terminals and harness track now located at the nearby Monticello Raceway. But Cappelli claims he needs to keep a larger share of lottery terminal revenues to make the project viable.

The Concord, with some 1,200 rooms, was a Catskills mainstay in the days when the area was packed with summer tourists, many of them Jewish families from New York City.

Despite the agreements announced Monday, the 2008 session this election year will also be known for what wasn’t accomplished.

Among them was reforming Albany’s notorious public authorities, which were created to be apolitical entities to systems such as New York City transit and the Thruway, but have seen several scandals and criticism of being out of touch with New Yorkers paying their fares and tolls.

Also untouched were measures that sought to reduce gasoline and heating fuel prices. Another would have allowed nonprofit groups to again use lower-cost, publicly backed financing from industrial development agencies. Unions opposed the measure.

In all, Paterson and legislative leaders negotiated 18 agreements in closed-door meetings.

“For people who voted in November, 2006, expecting big changes in the way Albany operated, they must be sorely disappointed,” Horner said. “There are lot bills getting passed at the last minute and some big-ticket items getting kicked down the road.”

Another bill without agreement was one that aimed to end a practice by teachers and other school employees of “grooming” students until a pupil reached the age of consent for sex. The bill would have made sex involving a school employee and a student of any age illegal even when the student is over 18 years old. Those teacher sex cases are harder to prosecute.

The Legislature was expected to remain in Albany through part of this week, beyond the scheduled end of session, so rank-and-file lawmakers could pass the bills their leaders negotiated in private. The Legislature is also tentatively scheduled to return to session in July if Paterson and legislative leaders negotiate agreement on issues put off this session.

Categories: Schenectady County

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