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Alexandria Bay man questions TIBA’s faithfulness to original Boldt Castle agreement

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The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority gets richer while the Alexandria Central School District gets poorer.

That’s the contention of Dean A. Erck, a resident of the village of Alexandria Bay and father of a student in the district.

During the September meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators, Mr. Erck said TIBA had reneged on key promises contained in a 1977 agreement that enabled the authority to acquire Boldt Castle, Boldt Yacht House and associated properties as a gift from the Edward John Noble Foundation.

The transfer had to be approved by what was then known as the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors.

As part of that arrangement, TIBA agreed to make payments in lieu of taxes to the municipalities and school districts in at least the same amount as they would receive in taxes if the 1977 assessments on the properties were to continue.

As a public benefit corporation, TIBA does not have to pay taxes or make PILOT payments. In spite of this, the authority agreed in 1977 that “No taxing authority will be penalized by reason of the Authority’s statutory exemption from taxes” to demonstrate its “deeply engrained sense of civic responsibility.”

TIBA also agreed that after making immediate improvements to the property, which had fallen into disrepair by the late 1970s, it would continue only limited restoration projects and would increase its PILOT payments according to periodic reassessments of value.

But in the ensuing years, the authority never increased its PILOT payments and continued to acquire land and make unnecessary investments while the school districts and municipalities suffered, according to Mr. Erck.

“We’re having trouble keeping our school lunch program going and they’re building a new kitchen,” he said.

Mr. Erck was spurred into action after TIBA purchased Blue Heron Boat Works LLC on Wellesley Island from Thomas B. Inglehart. TIBA paid $750,000 for the Boat Works and $350,000 for an adjacent property also owned by Mr. Inglehart.

It then closed the site to the public and allowed only certain people access to the boat slips, according to Mr. Erck.

Robert G. Horr III, executive director of TIBA, is perplexed by Mr. Erck’s allegations.

The Blue Heron properties were purchased to support Boldt Castle maintenance operations, Mr. Horr said.

Maintenance, woodworking and paint shops associated with the Boldt Castle property previously were housed in the Boldt Yacht House.

Mr. Horr said the storage of flammable materials in such a historic structure was dangerous.

When the opportunity to acquire an alternative location came up, TIBA jumped on it, Mr. Horr said.

The property is left open to the public in the summer but closed down in the winter to prevent vandalism; Mr. Inglehart used to live on the property, which may help to explain why it was accessible year-round, Mr. Horr said.

Some of Mr. Inglehart’s former customers are allowed to use the boat slips, but the other vestiges of the Blue Heron operation, including gasoline pumps, were removed, according to Mr. Horr.

The Blue Heron property was assessed at a little over $250,000 at the time of the TIBA purchase, according to Paul J. Warneck, director of Jefferson County Real Property Tax Services.

As compared with the $487 million worth of taxable property in the town of Alexandria, the loss of the Blue Heron property from the tax rolls is minimal — it amounts to about 5/10,000 of a percent, Mr. Warneck said.

According to its fiscal year 2013-14 report, TIBA will make $150,000 in PILOT payments this year and next year, including $50,000 to Jefferson County, $34,000 to the LaFargeville Central School District, $8,000 to the town of Orleans, $11,000 to the town of Alexandria, $12,000 to the village of Alexandria Bay and $33,000 to the Alexandria Central School District.

According to the 1977 agreement, TIBA voluntarily paid Jefferson County $40,000, the town of Orleans $5,000 and the town of Alexandria $1,000 for a total of $46,000.

“The Authority intends to increase those payments to at least $55,000 during the current fiscal year, and to about $105,000 in the following year, based upon its projected financial ability to do so,” according to the document.

Other than the LaFargeville Central School District, no other taxing jurisdictions have tried to renegotiate their arrangements with TIBA, Mr. Horr said.

Mr. Horr said that the authority would be receptive to such requests.

“We would take a look at it, a request from a municipality to do that,” he said.

Mr. Horr also said that Mr. Erck, who came to a recent TIBA meeting, had not spoken to him or any other member of the authority about his concerns.

Mr. Erck said he is appealing to the Jefferson County Board of Legislators because it provides oversight over TIBA.

Jefferson County does appoint four of the seven members of the TIBA board, but its oversight ability ends there, County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III said.

As a public authority, TIBA operates independently of the county.

According to the state comptroller’s office, “Public authorities have various levels of autonomy from the State based on the powers, as well as the constraints, built into their legislative mandate ... Unlike traditional State agencies, many authorities conduct business outside of the typical oversight and accountability requirements for operations, including, but not limited to, employment practices, contracts and procurements procedures, and financial reporting.”

The Public Authorities Reform Act of 2009 tightened some state oversight requirements over public authorities and strengthened the New York State Authorities Budget Office, whose mission is to make public authorities “more accountable and transparent.”

The officers of TIBA apparently recognized in 1977 that their acquisition of the Boldt properties would open them up to criticism immediately and in the decades to come.

The move “is expected to subject the Authority to continuous and damaging criticism, regardless of the amount of skill and ingenuity which may be demonstrated,” according to a portion of the original agreement.

Since 1977, TIBA has invested more than $40 million in the properties, Mr. Horr said. The Boldt facilities brought in more than $1.6 million in 2011 and 2012 and cost slightly less to operate.

The Boldt Castle and Yacht Club remain one of the Thousand Islands’s most successful tourist draws.

The sites welcomed more than 190,770 visitors last year, according to castle operators.

Mr. Erck said he will continue to fight to see TIBA honor its original agreement.

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