Charges Made Publicly by Common Council Official

Is Roosevelt Island "Being Screwed" In the Cornell Tech Deal?

David Stone

"Roosevelt Island is being screwed by both the City and the State of NY. And it's costing each and every resident money to support the services Cornell Tech needs," wrote Joyce M. Short, the Common Council's Government Relations Committee Chair. Similar allegations were made earlier in an effort to justify RIOC nominating elections run by the group, conditioned on the claim of RIOC's incompetence. But is any of it true?

"Those services should be paid for by the multi-billion dollar commercial enterprises that are housed in the Bridge Building," Short continued, "not by the hard-working residents who live here and struggle each day to carve out an income to support their families and cover the costs of services through our land leases."

On an article published here about a Cornell Tech Taskforce meeting with Community Coalition, back in April, Short posted a comment, encouraging Island residents to call their elected officials to complain.

"Remind them that the money supporting the services for Cornell doesn't grow on Roosevelt Island's trees. It comes straight out of our residents' pockets!" she wrote.

Fact Check

Short bases her claim, early on, by insisting, "it's the community, not the City that cleans and plows the streets, takes care of the grounds-keeping leading to the campus, and provides 'first response' and protection to all Cornell Tech visitors, tenants, students and faculty.... all of that comes off our dime."

Not exactly. As part of the agreement that returned land Cornell Tech needed to build out its campus to the City (which, in turn, leases it to the school) Cornell Tech agreed to pay RIOC $400,000 per year for 55 years. This covers a myriad of obligations agreed to in discussions with RIOC and the Community Coalition.

Significantly, Cornell Tech provides its own security services, and its presence does not add any special burden to RIOC for snowplowing, groundskeeping, etc.

Short's claims, as an official representing the Common Council, appear to be false.

A Possible Explanation

What may have confused Short is something she may allude to in an attack on RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal:

Confusingly, she writes, "Susan Rosenthal was not part of the discussion when the State of NY committed to the $23MM. She was fed the party line from Albany, and is their steadfast servant, pretending that obligations were not met, that were not part of the discussion. The State wanted the deal to go forward. They stuck boiler plate into the agreement and assured everyone concerned that it was simply required 'boiler plate.'"

Incomprehensible as that paragraph may be, the situation Short seems to refer to is one she, as well as the RIOC Board, appears justified in protesting.

In a Memorandum of Understanding between RIOC and the Empire State Development Corporation on December 16, 2013, then President/CEO Charlene Indelicato signed off on an agreement that obligated the EDC to pay RIOC $1 million per year for 55 years, but promised to bunch it together and hand over the full amount in 2018.

The money, according the MOU was "to support capital infrastructure improvements" and referenced a resolution recently passed by the RIOC Board on December 12th.

Except, as Board Member Margie Smith protested when the income was not included in RIOC's budget for this year, that's not what she and her fellow Board Members approved.

That resolution listed the State's contribution as follows: 

"1,000,000 annually for 55 years payable to RIOC in accordance with state budgetary procedures, or an equivalent amount to support capital infrastructure improvements on RIOC in accordance with state budgetary procedure." Italics mine.

That is, the money was not conditioned on infrastructure improvements being made, although those improvements could be substituted when supplied by the state.

Indelicato seems to have signed off on something the Board never approved.

In budget deliberations at an public session of the RIOC Board in April, Rosenthal appealed to Smith and other balking Board Members to cooperate with her plan to shake the money owed loose from EDC by aggressively executing necessary infrastructure work.

The MOU signed off on by Indelicato, right or wrong, was an obligation in place for five years. It wasn't going away. Make the best of it by responding to the intent of the agreement, i.e., get going on infrastructure. There were plenty of projects, from the deteriorating Roosevelt Island Bridge helix to seawall railings, to keep funds moving.

In the end, only Smith voted "No" on the budget resolution, but she had a valid point. What Indelicato signed off on was fundamentally different than what the Board voted on, and it could very well cost RIOC - and ultimately the community - millions.

End Note: The Roosevelt Islander blog has posted the relevant documents on line. You can find the Board resolution here and the MOU here.

Comments powered by Disqus