Plattsburgh Leaders Discuss New Compact Between City And Town
Under the city of Plattsburgh’s last mayor, Democrat Colin Read, who left office on December 31st, 2020, several actions were taken in an attempt to obtain land or money from the adjacent town of Plattsburgh. Town officials contested an annexation attempt and lawsuits over a long-term Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement. Three and a half months after the new mayor was sworn in he and the town supervisor have signed what they are calling the Plattsburgh Compact. It not only drops the lawsuits but swaps rather than annexes land between the municipalities. In the first part of an interview with WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley, Mayor Chris Rosenquest and Supervisor Michael Cashman, both Democrats, explain the negotiations that led to the joint agreement.
Last week, at an event hosted by the North Country Chamber of Commerce, the mayor and supervisor of the city and town of Plattsburgh signed the Plattsburgh Compact.
Supervisor Michael Cashman:
“I'll let Chris give his two cents but the town's position has been there for a while. We just needed to get into a room to have that conversation so we could work our way through the three C's, you know, communication, collaboration and compromise. We knew that there was a need for compromise, but we needed to have a partner that was willing to have a real honest conversation that was mutually beneficial.”
Mayor Chris Rosenquest
“Yeah, 100%. From my perspective it was not difficult at all. The biggest concern that I had going into this was how quickly could we get this resolved? That was the biggest concern I had. And, you know, I was looking back at some of my social posts and I remember taking a picture of Supervisor Cashman and Trevor Cole coming into the office on February 10th. We posted the public announcement of the compact April 12th. And you do the math it's about 60 something days or something. So that's how long it took to get everything resolved. Everything. And even the second meeting we came in with some semblance of a resolution, some semblance of a hey what about this? What if we consider this? It kind of broke the ice if you will. And from there we just built on to the final version of the compact. It was not difficult. I think more than anything my concern was making sure that I understood where they were coming from, the concerns that they had, not necessarily concerns that I had as the mayor but more than concerns like, hey, where are these guys coming in at? What are their concerns? What did they need to get this resolved? And from there I believe it just was a matter of everybody's going to get what they need at the end of the day.”
“Mayor Rosenquest you were elected in November. Were some of the ideas in the compact, in the agreement, something you were thinking of before you were elected and did you maybe talk about it with Supervisor Cashman during the campaign at all?”
“No, I don't believe that we spoke about any of the boundary line adjustments, the memorandums of agreement. A lot of these did happen organically, if you will, in the process. My mind about my notion and perspective on water security is shared. You know the Town of Plattsburgh is investing 20 million plus dollars into their water infrastructure. The city of Plattsburgh is investing $20 million into our water reclamation plant. These are opportunities that we in the room started to see hey we could work together on these things rather than independently. This serves our, the bigger region rather than our individual municipalities.”
“Supervisor Cashman we knew with the election in November that there would be a new mayor in Plattsburgh because the former mayor had been primaried out. So it could have been Mayor Rosenquest. It could have been a Mayor Scott Beebe, you know, before the November elections we just didn't know. But how hopeful were you that no matter who came into office that you would be able to create a compact like this?”
“Yeah. So I was absolutely confident that no matter who took the seat we would be having conversations because both Chris and Scott demonstrated a real interest and willingness and goodwill nature. In fact the three of us met for coffee of the Koffee Kat one time. But, you know, I really want to speak to what Chris was able to do. You know when you become a chief elected official you have a lot in your portfolio that you need to get your hands wrapped around. For this to become a priority within, you know, not only the first 100 days, but in approximately about a 60 day period speaks a lot about Chris's interest in truly leaning in and partnering with myself and the Town of Plattsburgh and our two teams coming together so that we can get on to the other things that are out there and future opportunities.”
“When you made the announcement that you had come together and created the Plattsburgh Compact and had the press conference you both said that you had met with, Mr. Rosenquest the city councilors, Mr. Cashman the town board, as you crafted this agreement. How much impact input in the final document did they actually have the board members and the city councilors?”
“I would say that they helped shape the attitude towards the final agreement. Meaning if there was some concern about a boundary line adjustment or a shared partnership we would take it, we would take that concern back to the table and when we say okay this is a concern that we need to make sure that is addressed or is at least highlighted or solved or resolved. One of those concerns especially with the Reeves Lane annexation for example. You know we came back to the table. We said let's put everything on the table. Let's get everything resolved in one fell swoop rather than trying to chip away at some of the issues that we all addressed or we all are concerned over. So that was in that sense, yes. The council was updated at every turn. And then at the end of the day, when we were ready to pass on resolve everything, everybody was on the same page.”
“That struck me when I watched the city council meeting last week when they approved the compact. There was very little discussion because you mentioned during the meeting that they had been involved in the discussions as you just mentioned. But also, I mean, even just in December the city council had determined that the Reeves Lane annexation was in the public interest and they continued their efforts regarding the SEQR declaration and the annexation. Why such a rapid change of heart do you guys feel at least on the city council's perspective?”
I don't think it was a change of heart. I think that the position that the council has taken and had taken for the last couple years was the annexation of Reeves Lane or the boundary line adjustment of Reeves Lane. And this addresses that. This solves that. It just puts it on a fast forward and it gets it resolved quicker than it would be dragging it out in court over the next year and a half, which nobody wanted. And it puts to bed that specific concern for that specific property.
“And Pat from the vantage point of the town, you know our delegation, these are some of the things that we've talked about over the last several years. So it wasn't a matter of you know was the town board united or was their voice at the table? It was because we've workshopped this in a sense for years. What we needed to do is to find somebody that was willing to hear our concerns. And the concerns that we brought to the table were not just the town board’s. For example one of the things that we were always concerned about was the districts. Kind of like the District Three volunteer fire department, making sure that that was adequately addressed. And through those conversations, we were able to do it.”
“That's right. And again that goes back to my mind that goes right back into that compromise where we both won. We both won out of this. And we both compromised certain things out of it as well. And at the end of the day, you know, Cashman always refers to his relationship with his wife. And, you know, you always you know, sometimes you disagree, but you always come back, you always come back into the room, you always come back to the table. And that's where, that's the attitude that we went into with this. We went into this with the attitude of this might be difficult. We might even not agree. We might walk out of the room upset with each other. But guess what next week we're coming right back here. We're going to sit in this room. We're going to work through it. We're going to keep going. And that attitude and mentality really pushed this. Specific to the team my attitude was Cashman and I will get this going. Right? And there are people on our teams, Meg Bobbin, Trevor Cole, Jon Ruff, who brought some of these very innovative interesting ideas, some of them didn’t work. Honestly some of the ideas pitched were like eeh no that’s not going to really work out here. Maybe it’s something for the future but not something right now. But they really drove this. They drove this home. I think Cashman and I really just set the context for it, set the framework, set the environment.”
In part two of our interview Plattsburgh Mayor Chris Rosenquest and Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Michael Cashman review details of the agreement including the land swap and dropping the lawsuit over the town’s Falcon Seaboard PILOT payments to the city.
In March 2018, the city of Plattsburgh filed suit against the town of Plattsburgh, claiming the town had violated a long-term Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement and seeking more than a million dollars. The town disputed the city’s claims. At the same time the city was attempting to annex over 200 acres of town land.
Last week the supervisor of the town of Plattsburgh and the new mayor of the city of Plattsburgh signed a settlement agreement that drops the lawsuit and resolves annexation efforts between the two municipalities.
In the second part of an interview with WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley, Town Supervisor Michael Cashman and Mayor Chris Rosenquest, both Democrats, discuss what’s in the agreement. One component in the compact is a clause that instead of land annexation there will be a “reconfiguration of their shared municipal boundaries.” Supervisor Cashman says it benefits both communities.
It's basically a land swap. In some of the resolutions to meet statutes and things like that the word annexation will very likely be in some of the final documents but it really is a land swap. The city will acquire the 200 plus acres up on Ruger. And they will also receive some parcels or the land that makes the footprint of their current PMLD (Plattsburgh Municipal Lighting Department) building. Both of those are currently in the town of Plattsburgh, as municipal boundaries, goes into the city. For the town we'll be receiving 18 plus acres of land from the city that is county property they own the property but it will come into the town of Plattsburgh. It's already being serviced by our water infrastructure and it's a site for some future development as well. And because that property is already being serviced by town of Plattsburgh infrastructure it really makes a lot of sense. And in fact if the city had to run certain infrastructure over to that property it would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. So again this is one of those examples that we talk about a win-win, but it's actually a win-win-win because the county's also getting a win out of it as well.
Mayor Chris Rosenquest:
And the county was aware of this process as well especially when we all sat down and said hey what about this property, this property and that property and the multimodal building with the hotel pad at the airport was put on the table. And we looked at and we're like look if it made sense for the city to have invested $300,000 to run infrastructure we would have done it already years ago. But we didn't. It just didn't make sense.
Supervisor Michael Cashman:
At every turn it's positive and because of the way that the properties are being recalibrated it means that it protects the bottom line to the taxpayers in both municipalities.
Another big part of the Plattsburgh Compact is settling the Falcon Seaboard lawsuit. It's been dropped. Now the backdrop to all of that is somewhat complex. But the basic part of it is the PILOT payments between the city and town were being disputed. Can you explain how this settlement will affect the PILOT payments between the city and town moving forward?
In the most simplest terms it will remain as it was because it didn't get changed during the lawsuit. The agreement was to get rid of the lawsuit. Neither Chris or I were here back in 1992. We're taking a position that we don't want to finger wag over a number of decisions that were made over the years. The fact is thousands of dollars were being spent for a loss on both sides. It was tearing at the fabric of the relationship. It was tearing at the budget line and a number of other things. And we knew that at the end of the day no one was going to gain anything from it. So we said rather than put it on pause let's get rid of it. Let's look at new opportunities to again communicate, collaborate and compromise so that we can move our municipalities in the region forward. And in fact that there is only a handful of years left in the overall pilot agreement anyways. That was another reason is like why are we going to war over something that is going to have, you know, almost a sunset date in front of us anyways. We're potentially going to spend more than we'll ever receive based on our allotments.
The settlement you have mentioned will help the city in town move forward with new initiatives and shared services, things like that. What sorts of initiatives do you guys have conceptually thought about that this agreement may help you move forward with?
Chris Rosenquest: I will say this one of the most important things for us going into this was resolving all the issues and concerns. But even more important was setting a tone for future development and future partnership. They had to go together.
Supervisor Cashman: Absolutely
Stopping you know, resolving one issue and then saying okay well we're done, it would have been okay. It would not have been to the level at which Supervisor Cashman and I wanted to work together and set our futures up, our communities’ futures up. There's a number of initiatives and Cashman can fill in because I may not remember all of them. Infrastructure and services as a general but specifically to what we're currently working on is water infrastructure. We're building that infrastructure right now: $24 million into the town's water infrastructure, $20 million plus into the city's infrastructure. We do water reclamation for the town. The town of Plattsburgh is sourcing new water. The city of Plattsburgh has water sourced but we are also sourcing new water. So it makes sense for us to say okay let's figure out how can we just, I don't mean to pun, but pool everything together and figure out how do we share this resource? How do we develop this resource? In my mind it is really focused on the next 200 years of water security for the region not just the city and the town. But let's think big. That's one thing. There's a notion of those compatibility zones or there’s shared boundaries that the city and town have. Visitors come and it’s Plattsburgh it's not the city and the town. So our goal is to look at those zones and start to create a plan a shared plan together so that it becomes contiguous. It becomes it looks the same, it blends as a gray area.
Supervisor Michael Cashman:
I would just echo that the Memorandums of Agreement are a space of which we are launching into more conversations. I mean nothing has been so codified that it addresses specific actions yet. Which is okay. I'll use the water for example. Both Chris and I and the city and the town understand that infrastructure is the bread and butter of local government. So we need to have redundancy not reliancy on either one of us in the corridor areas of planning for community development and planning, You know you don't want a hammer factory across the street from residents. So we want to make sure that where things are being developed that we're sharing this information with one another. So again it's compatible and that we can make the best community that is a great place to live, work, play and invest, because people want to be here. So there are a number of things. And I'll tell you that there's nothing to announce. But I can tell you that the last meeting that our teams had we had about a 20 minute tangent. We were just spit balling all kinds of future ideas, you know, subjects that we need to talk about not necessarily items that we're going to take action on. But that was for me the biggest win of the Compact because it's about working on the future of where we are going together.
One of the things I've been curious about seems like every time it administration changes the relationship between the city and town changes. Sometimes you have a very good meshed relationship and other times it's in tatters. This time you have the Plattsburgh Compact. It's in writing. You've signed it. The City Council and the Town Board have approved it. What else can you do to make sure that a future administration of the town or the city or both doesn't change or backtrack on this agreement?
Mayor Chris Rosenquest:
It's hard because I don't think you can. There's a line in the compact that implores future administrations to work together. You can't make them do it. But I will say this, you know, once you start blending those lines, that infrastructure, blending the process, sharing the service, it becomes very difficult to peel it apart. And so really this is the first stage in understanding where are those areas that we can start blending a little bit more tight knit where it will be very difficult to peel apart.
The public in both of our communities in the region are critical to the success. We need them to lean in and to be part of the process, you know, holding us individually accountable and us as a group. And to be quite frank I hope whoever assumes the seat of the town supervisor or the mayor in the city of Plattsburgh in what number of years will do a better job than we will. You should always hope that of the people that follow behind you because that means that progress is being made.
The legal process to complete the settlement agreement will take 90 to 120 days.