The Cortlandville town board voted Wednesday to rescind verbiage found in a resolution adopted Aug. 4 that would allow the town residents to vote on Cortlandville’s agreement with Prep Scouting Report (PBR) on the expansion of Gutchess Lumber Sports Complex.
The expansion of the local sports complex would result in the construction of two new baseball fields, additional parking, and other amenities. As it stands, the agreement between Cortlandville and PBR starts out with a 10-year term, with two separate renewal options. PBR will pay the town $218,000 per year, but Cortlandville is legally responsible for building the fields, which has a cost of anywhere between $750,000 and $1 million.
The agreement has been the subject of controversy among some elected officials and Cortland County residents. Town board member Douglas Withey, a candidate for town supervisor, has facilitated the circulation of a petition that would make the town submit the agreement signed with PBR up to a permissive referendum among town residents. The petition, according to Withey, garnered 243 signatures.
At Wednesday’s town board meeting, town attorney John DelVecchio said he spoke to representatives from the New York Association of Towns — an organization seeking to help grow the economies of small towns — and other unnamed legal sources about the permissive referendum portion of the resolution approved on Aug. 4 to enter the agreement with PBR.
Their advice, DelVecchio said, was to strike the permissive referendum portion of the resolution down, due to conflicting legal issues. He said members of the Association of Towns and the independent legal advisors told him that the town could not participate in a permissive referendum because the agreement between PBR and Cortlandville is “a management agreement, not a lease agreement.”
Eventually a new resolution to wipe away the town’s opportunity to vote on the agreement passed 4-1, with Withey dissenting.
“People are going to say, potentially, that they may not get their voices heard,” DelVecchio acknowledged. “What everyone has to understand here is that the town has to follow the law. The law unfortunately does not allow a referendum vote on this issue.”
Board members discussed the motion, with Withey suggesting taxpayers should have access to the contract to provide feedback to the town before entering the agreement with PBR.
“We haven’t got the favor of our voters, the taxpayers,” Withey said, noting the town has not seen the final draft of the contract. “That is the part that is upsetting.”
Withey also said he would like to see a record of the attorneys contacted by DelVecchio regarding their legal opinion on the permissive referendum petition.
“I think right now this is still a little bit loose,” he said. “It is unfortunate that there was an error by our attorney that the permissive referendum was an option. We should know when we sign a contract what that means legally to the voter and town council.”
Part of the issues residents have with the contract stem from an uncertainty surrounding the financial sustainability of the project. Although the project’s proponents have been consistently reiterated at county legislature meetings and town board meetings (about the financial benefits the park’s expansion can have on other businesses like hotels and restaurants), Withey said there are still no concrete numbers that have been shown to the public.
Town supervisor Tom Williams told Withey he has been aware of all of the board’s moves regarding the PBR agreement.
“As you know, and I think have stated, when you are negotiating large, multi-million dollar contracts, you don’t put that out there for the public to pick apart,” Williams said. “We voted on a contract and that is what they put us in place to do.”
Williams also said the town would not be able to make available correspondence between DelVecchio and other legal entities.
Some town residents at Wednesday’s meeting used the public comment section to speak in favor of the park’s expansion.
“This contract is damn good for Cortland. This contract can and will have a huge economic impact for (Cortlandville) and the county,” said Tammy Timmerman, the president of Cortland County Tavern and Restaurant Association. “As a county and a town, we need to embrace the future of sporting competitions and tourism. The potential for millions of dollars in sales tax revenue, hotel occupancy tax revenues, and fuel taxes, can be ours.”
Some others submitted comments virtually in dissent of the town board’s move.
“(PBR) are being given the keys to what our tax dollars paid for. Call (the contract) a lease, and let’s have the permissive referendum,” said Cortlandville resident and town board candidate Pam Jenkins.