So, Mediacom wants Albany taxpayers to forgive its overdue franchise fee debt by taking its former corporate office off its hands. Who can blame the company for making such a proposition? Not us.
But certainly, we blame four City Commission members who have tentatively approved the deal, which came so suddenly and so secretively that we can’t help but smell another one of those proverbial rats that have Albany smelling rancid from downtown to the city limits.
Here’s what we know: Without forewarning (i.e. discussions between commissioners and their constituents – remember those?), the commission voted 4-2 last week to write off Mediacom’s $139,000 franchise tax debt in exchange for Mediacom’s former office at 509 Flint Ave. Mayor Willie Adams and commissioners Tommie Postell, Roger Marietta and Christopher Pike pushed the deal forward; commissioners Jon Howard and Dorothy Hubbard say it’s a bad idea; and commissioner Bob Langstaff missed the vote.
There are at least 10 reasons why this deal stinks:
1. The extent and cost of repairs, renovations, furnishes and equipment for the building are unknown. In other words, we don’t know what we’re getting into. Spokespeople for City Manager Alfred Lott say they only know that the building needs more than $60,000 in roof and other repair work ($1 million is more than $60,000, by the way) and that Mediacom officials claim that the building has an appraised value of $372,000. Claim? Why in the world would the citizenry not have the benefit of an independent appraisal – much less the appraisal that is being cited? Why wasn’t the appraisal readily provided to the City Commission? It’s one thing to spend your own money haphazardly, but this isn’t your money, commissioners. It’s ours.
2. Without batting an eye, Lott’s spokespeople are telling us that Mediacom is walking away from $233,000 in profit ($372,000 that Mediacom says it is worth minus $139,000 it owns Albany taxpayers) it would make if it sells the building. We may be dumb, but we’re not stupid. That demonstrates how accustomed city hall is to lying to us.
3. Lott’s spokespeople say that the former Mediacom office would either be used for an Albany gang unit office (we have a $14.5 million law enforcement center and four underutilized community policing centers for that), animal control office (ditto) or as an employee wellness clinic .
4. Speaking of secret, Finance Director Newton says that the city is negotiating with a company to open a health clinic for city employees, but won’t say who the lucky company is, even though the information is public record. Why would such a discussion be conducted secretly? Because that’s how rats in government conduct business.
5. Even after taking its vote last week, city hall was unable or unwilling to provide the appraisal, except to say that it was by a state-certified general property appraiser in April 2010; whether the Flint Avenue property is paid for; and how much a health center would cost to open and maintain.
6. With Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and its fabulous wellness and fitness center about eight blocks from city hall, and with the city already having a fitness center (Jackson Heights), why in the world would the city open an employee wellness center? Newton says Phoebe refuses to partners with the city, which is something we seriously doubt. Even if that’s the case, why not hire wellness professionals and house them in an empty government office and save taxpayers lots of money in the first place?
7. With thousands of square feet of empty city and county office space, including plenty downtown, why in the world would the city buy a building to open an employee wellness center?
8. If the city acquires the Mediacom building, the city is taking away more than $3,300 a year in local property taxes.
9. If the City truly needed to add the Mediacom building to its inventory, strike a deal with Mediacom after – not before – Mediacom settles up with the City. Then, the City has leverage during the real estate negotiations.
10. This is really bad precedent. Why allow one taxpayer the opportunity to trade land for its debt, and not another? Either political motives or corruption, that’s why.
By Kevin Hogencamp