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Unpaid bills? Don’t worry

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COPAKE–Delinquent debts are dogging Housing Resources of Columbia County, but the agency’s executive director does not see that as an obstacle to going forward with the controversial housing project adjacent to the hamlet.

  After a two-and-a-half-year hiatus, Housing Resources of Columbia County Executive Director Kevin O’Neill made an unscheduled appearance at the June 4 Planning Board meeting. Housing Resources’ proposal for a 138-unit senior and mixed-income housing development, called Copake Green, was the reason for his appearance, and he told board members that his agency is now ready to pick up where it left off in December 2006.

  Since then, Mr. O’Neill said his agency has spent $400,000 on engineering and development, along with environmental studies at the project site, which is a 122-acre cornfield abutting the northwest section of the hamlet. The parcel is also bordered by Center Hill, Farm and Mountain View roads. 

  Some of those “pre-development engineering expenses” cited by Mr. O’Neill remain unpaid, along with $29,000 in delinquent water and sewer bills his organization owes the City of Hudson and an estimated $25,000 in loan payments for architectural services owed to the Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency (HCDPA).

  Hudson Mayor Rick Scalera told The Columbia Paper Tuesday that he called Mr. O’Neill into his office to talk about the unpaid water and sewer bills last month after Mr. O’Neill was “fairly unresponsive” to calls from the city’s billing clerk.

  The bills, which date from the first of the year, are for 11 different properties in the city owned by Housing Resources. Some of the properties contain 15 to 20 units, according to the mayor.

  “He told me it was a cash flow problem” but that he would pay up when he closed on the Hudson Homestead project, which he expected to be “any day; that was a month ago,” said Mayor Scalera.

  The city will not treat Mr. O’Neill differently from anyone else who fails to pay his bills, said the mayor, noting that if the bills remain unpaid at the end of the year, they will be added to his tax bill, and if they still aren’t paid, the properties in question can be put up for tax sales.

  Housing Resources “is one of the major parties delinquent” on its bills, “but not the only one,” said Mr. Scalera.

  Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency Executive Director Peter Markou confirmed to The Columbia Paper that Housing Resources has an estimated $25,000 in loan payments overdue to that agency, money Housing Resources borrowed for architectural services.

  Mr. O’Neill tried, apparently unsuccessfully, to obtain a $100,000 loan from the Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) to pay off some of the creditors.

  Ken Flood, executive director of the CEDC, said that on November 26, 2008, the CEDC issued Housing Resources a $100,000 loan commitment to help finance the Copake housing project by paying some of the “pre-development costs.” But that loan commitment is due to expire July 15, and as a contingency of that commitment, Housing Resources had to secure $218,000 from another funding source, said Mr. Flood.

  With July 15 fast approaching and Housing Resources unable to meet the contingency, Mr. O’Neill recently met with CEDC to ask for additional time. The board did not approve a motion to extend the deadline, according to Mr. Flood. If Housing Resources fails to close on the CEDC’s loan by July 15, Mr. O’Neill will have to start the whole process over again to get the money, said Mr. Flood.

  Reached for comment Tuesday afternoon, Mr. O’Neill disputed the amount owed to HCDPA, saying the total was $12,000 and was for a mortgage held by the Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency on a property Housing Resources purchased.

  He said his agency’s delinquency on its water and sewer bills was due to “trouble collecting rents.” Tenants are unemployed and are having “a hard time,” and that means his agency is “slow in paying some bills.”

  Mr. O’Neill said that his agency is “making progress” by selling property in Hudson, which will take care of some bills, as will an upcoming $1-million grant anticipated in connection with the Hudson Homestead project.

  In March 2006, Housing Resources was the subject of an unfavorable audit by NeighborWorks America, a national nonprofit organization created by Congress to provide financial support, technical assistance and training for community-based revitalization efforts, according to the organization’s website: www.nw.org/network/aboutUs.

  The NeighborWorks audit of Housing Resources financial records found that the agency could not explain where $1.5 million in capital grants went. Housing Resources was also the victim of an employee, who embezzled $22,000 from the agency.

  NeighborWorks America put Housing Resources on “provisional status” at that time.

  The Columbia Paper could not reach NeighborWorks for comment by press time.

  Until a year ago, Housing Resources owed Copake about $9,000 in unpaid consultant fees. The consultants were hired by the Planning Board in the course of reviewing the Copake Green application.

  Mr. O’Neill said he expected to make arrangements to be back on the Planning Board’s agenda by August or certainly September at the latest.

  To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@ColumbiaPaper.com.  
 

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