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Bisso calls state land deals Ponzi schemes

August 10, 2012
By CHRIS MORRIS - Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

115th Assembly District candidate Karen Bisso blasted state land deals in a statement issued earlier this week, calling them Ponzi schemes that rip off taxpayers.

But some of the candidate's claims don't ring true.

The Plattsburgh educator will square off against incumbent Assemblywoman Janet Duprey of Peru and Cadyville businessman David Kimmel in the Sept. 13 Republican primary. She'll also appear on the Conservative Party line in the Nov. 6 general election, as will Democrat Tim Carpenter of Plattsburgh.

Following Sunday's announcement that the state will buy 69,000 acres of land in the Adirondack Park from the Nature Conservancy, Bisso issued a strongly worded statement, referring to state land acquisitions as "the biggest Ponzi scheme in history."

"There are environmental groups with nice names like the 'Nature Conservancy,' or 'Thousand Island Land Trust,'" the statement reads. "These groups go out and make offers on large tracts of land. Once the offer is accepted, they apply for a grant from New York State to purchase the property. After they own the property, they then sell New York an 'easement' which these groups then in turn use to buy another piece of property. And again sell an easement. Then, after a couple of years, they sell the property to New York, usually at a profit."

Bisso said the state gives grants to an organization "which in turn sells us an easement." She said the property then gets a reduced tax rate, which drives up taxes for New York residents.

But in the most recent deal, The Nature Conservancy's Adirondack Chapter actually borrowed more than $100 million to pay for the land, and according to the group's executive director, Mike Carr, it sunk about $35 million of its own money into the deal.

Russ Finley, a campaign staffer for Bisso, said in an email that "nowhere in this article did we say that The Nature Conservancy did this, in this instance."

"However, what right does the state have to bail out this organization with our tax dollars?" he said.

Bisso also said the state takes land off the tax rolls every time it buys land. Since 1886, however, the state has paid full property taxes to counties, towns and school districts in the Adirondack and Catskill parks. Finley said, "I have not seen where New York pays taxes on any of its parcels in the (three) counties in the district."

He said New York can't pay taxes.

"Their sole income is taxes," he wrote. "So they are raising taxes to pay taxes. It is the equivalent of borrowing 5 bucks from you to pay you back the 5 bucks I owe you."

In some towns, like Franklin, Keene, Long Lake and Piercefield, the state pays 20 to 40 percent of local property taxes, based on the value of its Forest Preserve lands.

Nature Conservancy officials declined to comment on Bisso's statement. The state Department of Environmental Conservation, through spokesman Emily DeSantis, said, "Clearly, Ms. Bisso has no understanding of the state's procurement process or the facts associated with this acquisition.

"The state will pay full local property and school taxes on the land."

"If we're going to fix complex problems we have to have our facts straight," Kimmel told the Enterprise. "If we're going to change policy in a positive way we need to start with the truth. I think the issue is an important one, but I don't think it's a good idea to validate another candidate's bloviating with a response when they are factually in error."

Duprey said she thinks the state already owns too much land in the Adirondacks, and she is apprehensive about the Finch deal because it leaves some Adirondack communities with "no room to grow their town for any significant economic growth."

But she said the Nature Conservancy developed a "thorough, detailed study to determine the most appropriate use of the various assets within the tract.

"For instance, the recommendation was made to preserve OK Slip Falls as part of the Forest Preserve, waterways that have never been open to public access will now be available for kayaks and canoes, hiking trails will be developed for open access and snowmobile trails will be developed for the the public use," she said.



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