COMIDA approved tax incentives for 4000 River Road LLC on Tuesday. Here are comments made by Rochester for All Director Rachel Barnhart at the meeting:
I represent Rochester for All, a nonprofit citizen watchdog organization dedicated to good government and fiscal responsibility.
First, I want to address issues of transparency related to COMIDA’s public hearing process. COMIDA should post the incentive packages under consideration before the public hearing. Citizens cannot provide meaningful comment without knowing the cost of the package and the jobs promises.
The full board isn’t present at these hearings and reading citizen comments into the record is not adequate. Furthermore, your requirement that citizens sign up to speak 72 hours in advance at full board meetings means people have to sign up before the incentive packages are public and we cannot speak to you in person until after you’ve voted on the package.
This process doesn’t allow citizens to provide full consideration and meaningful comments. It may comply with the letter of the state open meetings law, but it doesn’t comply with the spirit of the law or democratic principles.
Second, I want to address the issue of awarding tax breaks to student housing. This is unnecessary. Rochester Institute of Technology isn’t going to pick up and move out of town. Students are going to live near the college. This is not a project that needs incentives. It doesn’t create economic development that wouldn’t have occurred without taxpayer help.
Third, only a few months ago, COMIDA awarded tax breaks to a Morgan Management project. You ignored the fact the company is under federal investigation for mortgage fraud, and may have fleeced Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Now there have been several arrests. There are ethical and practical issues. The ethical is obvious – you shouldn’t be giving taxpayer help to crooks. The practical issue is that properties could enter foreclosure or deteriorate.
Morgan conveniently got out of this project right before you were set to vote, but there’s no record of the transfer on file. The fact he’s selling to his close business partner, David Christa, is troubling. The search warrant for Morgan indicated that quote “fraudulent conduct…occurred across the Morgan Management/Morgan Communities portfolio. That portfolio includes projects Morgan partnered on with Christa. What’s more, Christa was involved in a student housing project in Brockport – similar to this one – that was subject to foreclosure.
I hope COMIDA takes steps to open this process to the public. I also hope you do due diligence on any project touching Morgan Management and multi-family properties.