Friday, December 20, 2013

Dems again block borrowing; GOP says Costco at risk

Posted By on Fri, Dec 20, 2013 at 11:22 AM

An ongoing County Legislature feud is only going to get more complicated, now that a proposed Costco store and the county's Children's Detention Center are getting dragged into it.

The conflict has its roots in two issues: a Democratic proposal to form a committee to conduct an internal review related to county-linked local development corporations; and a borrowing measure that would fund approximately 70 county projects. Democrats are blocking the latter in hopes of leveraging support for the former.

During a testy special meeting held early this morning (it started at 6:30 a.m. and there was much shouting), Democrats again blocked the borrowing measure. Democratic Minority Leader Carrie Andrews said that neither the administration nor the Legislature's Republican leadership had provided a rationale as to why the borrowing measure was being reconsidered at that particular time.

Democratic Legislator Willie Joe Lightfoot called the timing of the meeting "political trickery" that prevented the public from attending. If people weren't still sleeping, he said, they were getting ready for work.

County Executive Maggie Brooks and Republican legislators maintain that Democrats are putting Monroe Community College's downtown campus project in jeopardy by blocking the referral, which would authorize $44 million in borrowing for the new campus. And they continued that line of attack this morning.

"It's time that this political posturing ends," said Republican Legislator Dan Quatro.

Democrats dispute that claim, saying that the borrowing already authorized for the project is adequate for the near future.

But a new element was injected into the debate yesterday when Legislature President Jeff Adair added to the agenda legislation related to the county's Children's Detention Center. One piece of legislation would've added a center-related project to the county's yearly project list — called the Capital Improvement Plan — and the second involved bonding for that project. The first passed, but the second was tabled. 

This is where Costco comes into the picture. The store is proposed as part of Anthony J. Costello and Son's CityGate development. And Costello says that Costco needs a build-ready site by June 1. The existing Children's Detention Center sits on CityGate's site and and needs to be removed so Costello can finish site prep work. The county had already planned to build a new facility anyway, since the current center is outdated and no longer meets state requirements.

The county and the state have been working together to prepare space for the new detention center at the Industry Residential Center in Rush. Deputy County Executive Dan DeLaus told legislators that after Thanksgiving, state-contracted crews began construction work, though county officials have asked the state to halt work until the county can get funding for the project. While the state is agreeable to a short-term lease, DeLaus said, it really wants the county to buy the space.

If the detention center project progresses, he said, the new facility in Rush could be ready in January. 

At the start of this morning's meeting, Costello asked legislators to approve the legislation necessary to advance the detention center project and allow CityGate and Costco to proceed.

But county officials are going to stall the project because Democrats are blocking the Capital Improvement Plan. During a post-meeting huddle with media, County Executive Brooks said she won't ask the state to resume work on the Industry renovations, and that she's been down this road before with local Democrats. In what felt like a veiled reference to Renaissance Square, she said the county has in the past studied and planned for projects and tried to address Democrats' issues only to have the projects fail to come to fruition.

"It's out of my hands," she said.

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