Local property tax breaks are the best way to attract new development in the struggling Luther Forest Technology Campus, according to a new draft environmental impact statement.
State economic incentive programs aren’t as dependable for Luther Forest as offering local tax reductions, the LFTC Economic Development Corp. argues in the report.
That isn’t to rule state incentive programs out, said LFTCEDC attorney Libby Coreno, but the ability to offer local tax breaks is also necessary.
“The idea is for the LFTC to have as many tools in the toolbox as possible,” Coreno said.
The statement was released Tuesday, after the Malta Town Board declared it ready for public review. There will be a 60-day public comment period, and a public hearing has been set for 6:40 p.m. Monday, March 2, at Malta Town Hall on Route 9.
The environmental review is part of efforts to change local zoning law to make it easier to market lots in the 1,414-acre technology campus, which has attracted no new tenants since GlobalFoundries’ predecessor decided to build a computer chip plant there in 2006. That lack of activity has led to near-insolvency for the technology campus corporation, and earlier efforts to address the problem failed. The LFTCEDC and GlobalFoundries last fall applied to both towns for the zoning changes.
Currently, zoning for the site prohibits property tax breaks — commonly referred to as payments-in-lieu-of-taxes. PILOTs are normally negotiated through local industrial development agencies, which have the authority to swap property tax exemptions for job creation.
Luther Forest is believed to be the only site in New York state where local law prohibits PILOT agreements — a decision the towns made in 2004, when it was thought the state’s Empire Zone program made PILOTs unnecessary.
GlobalFoundries, which has invested more than $10 billion at the site and employs 2.700 people, doesn’t have a PILOT, but has its local property taxes reimbursed under the state’s Empire Zone program, which expired in 2010. The replacements, START-UP NY and the Excelsior Job Program, don’t work as well for Luther Forest, according to the document.
START-UP NY targets locations on or near college campuses — and while it offers large tax credits, it doesn’t allow discounts on property taxes. Hudson Valley Community College’s TEC-SMART campus qualifies as a higher-education campus, but START-UP NY companies are also limited to only 200,000 square feet.
“Without the ability to seek a PILOT from the local IDAs, any potential private owner or tenant in LFTC remains at a distinct disadvantage from a tax and economic standpoint, whether it participates in START-NY or not,” the report concludes.
Larry Benton, CEO of the Saratoga County Industrial Development Agency, said its PILOT incentives have helped create 10,000 jobs in the county over the past 35 years. The competition for technology companies like the ones Luther Forest wants is intense, Benton noted.
“Everybody across the country wants these kinds of companies,” he said. “In New York, taxes are very high and you’ve got competition for these companies.”
In addition to PILOT incentives, zoning changes the tech campus seeks include expanding the kinds of businesses allowed in Luther Forest beyond nanotechnology to include other kinds of technology and technology-support businesses.
The draft finds there will generally be no environmental impacts from proposed zoning changes that haven’t been adequately studied in earlier environmental reviews done in 2004, 2008 and 2013.
Once the public comment period concludes, there is no schedule for when the Malta Town Board would act. The Stillwater Town Board will also need to approve any zoning changes, but Stillwater officials have made clear they want to do whatever is necessary to encourage new activity.
The county IDA has written a letter in support of the proposed changes.
“We believe the amendments are the essential element needed to attract new high tech companies, capital investment and well-paying jobs to our county,” said the letter, signed by IDA Chairman Raymond F. Callanan.
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