You call this business friendly?

Every once in a great while an event will occur and crystallize an issue with clarity previously impossible to achieve. That event may well be the way the Country House Inn in Kent is being driven out of business by local politicians and bureaucrats. Ever wonder why business is reluctant to relocate to our town and help reduce our oppressive tax burden? Well, let me tell you of the odyssey of this historic building. Let me tell you how it now fins itself preparing to be sold as a retirement home for nuns or as a group home after more than 200 years on the same site.

The family that currently owns the Country House can trace roots back through the history of the inn . The story of the inn is as much their history as that of the building. In 1988, Ann and Tom Olson were given the inn by her aged aunt, Anna Secklman the last innkeeper, who had owned it and served her community for nearly fifty years. Ann was born in Cold Spring, raised in Peekskill and has worked at the inn during her teen-age years.

The Olson's were thrilled to have it and started to plan how they would rehabilitate and restore the place to its original condition. The building had deteriorated significantly in the latter years of Mrs. Secklman's tenure due to her age and to poor quality renovations made at the beginning of this century. They intended to invest the nest egg they had accumulated during Tom's career in the U.S. Army in order to create a current, code-compliant state-of-the-art bed and breakfast in our beautiful town. Good friends advised them to forswear their ambitions because Kent had a well-known reputation as a community unfriendly to business. Still, they forged ahead.

Restoration work began in May 1997 and was stopped by the Town of Kent building inspector in July 1999, who determined that permits were necessary due to the value of the work being done. After a four month delay, work resumed and the prime construction period was lost for the year. To remove and replace the front porch with one 24 inches larger required approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals and more dela. A temporary shed was needed to house the 200 antiques that had to come out of the building during the renovation period. Yes, another permit from the planning board was needed, causing further delay Friends continued to caution them about the "horrors" of dealing with this group so they went without the shed and endured six burglaries during the renovation. Rehabilitation of the inn was completed in September 1998.

A series of delays ended with a final certificate of occupancy issued in December 1998 well after the peak season for business. No one had discussed issuing a temporary or interim of C of 0 to facilitate the business taking advantage of a prime tourist season.

In May 1999 they were reassessed by the Kent Tax Assessor and advised that they would see an increase in their taxes. The taxes had previously been $5,800 and they, like anyone else, anticipated a modest increase. However, the new assessment would result in a tax levy of $25,000 and they were told to count their blessings because people in the town offices felt the taxes should be twice as much! Sadly, the predictions of friends and neighbors about the Town of "Kant" have all come home to roost. An appeal of the assessment was denied.

The irony is that the town board has-been doing back flips in recent years to try and project themselves as business friendly. For example, in the case of a proposed outlet mail on Route 311 in Lake Carmel they decided to sell off a town asset at below market price to the developer and then to replace the asset at four times the cost. Also, they have offered tax abatements that will definitely run 10 years, and possibly more than 12. The developer will pay no taxes for the first five years and then taxes will be introduced over five years in 20% increments. The clock does not start ticking on the abatement until the project is "completed," but how is that term defined?

Naturally, the comparison begs the question, "Why do so much for one business person and do nothing but harass another? I would rather not believe that the town offered aid to a business because those representing the business made donations to several political campaigns. Is it that the scale of the proposed project promises more of some benefit to the town than the Country House Inn, like taxes? Well, they won't be paying property taxes for the foreseeable future, so that's out. All sales tax revenues go to the county and they "never" share that money, so that's out. Perhaps they feel that there are more jobs to be gleaned for the town by the larger project over the smaller. However, it is difficult to calculate the number of jobs small businesses like the Country House Inn could spread throughout the Town of Kent. We should be encouraging small, low impact firms to move here and bring their 5 to 10 jobs as well as megabucks developers. The treatment the Olson's are receiving has done incalculable harm to our economic base because it tends to chase others into the arms of our neighbors.

It turns out that the assessor used an incorrect-method for assessing the property. This leaves the poor Olson's wondering whether the assessor knows how to do his job or is intentionally trying to put them out of business. Even using the capitalization method the taxes are miscalculated because they can never generate sufficient revenue to survive and pay the taxes.

During the appearance before the Board of Assessment Review Torn Olson presented three separate, alternate methods for assessing the property, including a recent real estate appraisal, but the board deferred to the assessor and they let him guide their final decision.

Now, Ann and Tom are in a state of shock, reassessing their future because they have been forced to accept that it will not be in the Town of Kent. They are examining a threefold approach to the situation and maybe that is the only hope for them. They are exploring the possibility of selling the property to the Diocese of New York as a retirement home for nuns. They are exploring a simultaneous option of selling it to the State of New York for a group home. The net result will be the same for the town revenues.

In conjunction with the sale, they will explore, with counsel the option to sue the town and any employees who participated in a process that may well be proven capricious. The third option they are exploring is to make this as public an issue as possible, and by doing so try to prevent anyone else from being harmed by the methods used against them.

One of the fundamental tenets we have all come to expect of government is consistency, and here is that glaring example of how things boil down in the Town of Kent. This has not gone unnoticed in and around our town and it is no wonder that businesses are looking elsewhere ... is it?

I appeal to the citizens of Kent to imagine how it would have been to have a lovely bed and breakfast in our midst that we could have sent guests to or even escaped to ourselves. Consider where we must now send visitors for whom we lack room: Route 9 in Fishkill, Cold Spring or Danbury.

Remember also that this is election year and the same people who are sticking it to Ann and Tom Olson, our neighbors, will be seeking reelection in the fall. Remember that, when you are thinking about how privileged we are to live in the highest taxed town, in the highest taxed county, in the highest taxed state in the Union. Ask those seeking your vote why the only businesses apparently welcome in the town are those who donate to certain political campaigns.

Bil Tulipane


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Wednesday, January 5, 2005