The village hired Albany attorney Lewis B. Oliver Jr. to pursue a lawsuit seeking money or written assurances the village will be made whole when Beech-Nut baby food making operations leaves in 2010, officials said Monday.
Village officials heard several comments and fielded a host of questions during public comment at the outset of a special meeting attended by more than 30 people.
Many of them decried the village’s intent to sue as a means of protecting the village’s interests.
“Your actions risk irrevocable damage to Canajoharie’s reputation as a progressive ‘can-do’ community, and creates a new one as an obstructionist, litigious municipality,” said Fred Miller, executive director of the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission, which has been working to bring grant money in to renovate the historic village.
“Please reconsider your pursuit of an action that may provide some measure of short-term relief at the risk of permanent damage,” Miller said.
Village officials are concerned with the loss of revenue imminent at the departure of the baby food manufacturer, which is building a new factory in Montgomery County’s Florida Business Park.
When the company leaves and takes 350 jobs with it, Trustee Jeffrey Baker said, the village risks assuming $3.6 million in debt for upgrades to the sewer and water infrastructure and the loss of $2 million in revenue in addition to school and municipal property taxes.
Baker said he and other village officials met with representatives from the state’s Empire State Development agency last week but received only oral assurances the village would be kept in mind as the Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. project progresses.
“It’s all been verbal, nothing in writing,” Baker said.
State and local officials put more than $100 million in tax breaks, incentives and grants toward the project.
Officials in the village say there are laws that prohibit using public money to take jobs from one economically depressed area and bring them to another, a claim at least one person in attendance Monday said appears sound.
“My feeling is that what they have discovered is a legitimate legal issue to pursue,” said Alice Smith Duncan.
Others at the meeting said they feared the village’s lawsuit will cut it off from future state and local assistance. “We’re going to be here, alone out on a limb while cutting the limb off,” said Aimie Plank Wockenfuss.
Amy Dievendorf said the Village Board’s decision to file a lawsuit represents a means for village officials to avoid questions.
“Filing a lawsuit is easy. You turn all the work over to an attorney and you can avoid talking about it because [it’s in litigation],” Dievendorf said.
Mayor Leigh Fuller told the group that pursuing a lawsuit is the only avenue left in the absence of any documented promise from officials that the village taxpayers won’t suffer in the name of economic development elsewhere.
“We are trying to do something. We’re trying to save Canajoharie,” Fuller said.
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