KINGSTON – Len Bernardo, owner of SkateTime 209 in Accord, told the Ulster County Development Agency that his plan to hire twenty-six people for the roller rink was a prediction, not a promise. Bernardo appeared with his attorney at the IDA's October 24 meeting in order to address whether or not his business has been underperforming on promises made to get property tax breaks.
The question of underperformance for SkateTime 209 was raised once before, in 2008 when Bernardo, whose wife Terry is currently serving as chair of the Ulster County Legislature, was a candidate for County Executive. The application for tax breaks stated that there would be twenty-six jobs, but there are in fact only nine full-time equivalents, or FTEs, employed there. However, Bernardo maintains that the only promises made were in the contract with the IDA, not the application, and have been fulfilled: that the vacant land was bought, and the building erected and outfitted with all the necessary equipment. The venture was self-financed; the IDA did not loan any money.
While characterizing the number of jobs on the application as a "prediction," Bernardo touted other benefits of his business.
"It's always been about the kids," he said. "We've provided a safe place for them, and we're very proud of that."
He added that he and his wife, Terry, attended trainings on how to identify and prevent gang activity at the rink. The policy, he said, is simple: "My house, my rules."
Police intervention is rare, Bernardo said, and is typically related to parents, not children or gangs.
"I talk to all the parents that come to pick up their kids," he noted. "I've had to tell some that I couldn't let them drive, and they could either let me drive them home, or we could call the police. It's about prevention."
SkateTime 209 provides jobs indirectly as well, he said. School and camp groups travel there regularly, and it's an additional option for tour groups.
"We applied to qualify under tourism, not jobs," Bernard told the IDA.
IDA members indicated that they were interested in being consistent in enforcing agreements, which is why this and other businesses have recently been asked to justify their jobs numbers.
"Our challenge is for accountability and transparency," said chairman David O'Halloran, who is GOP chairman for the Town of Rochester, where the Bernardos live. "We approach municipalities about giving these tax breaks and we have to be accountable for what happens."
When the authority rules next month, it could decide to reduce the rink's remaining years of abatement by a percentage determined by the reduced number of jobs, which could be partially offset if members are swayed by the non-jobs benefits that Bernardo says SkateTime 209 provides the community. New applicants, however, are all made aware of stiffer consequences, including "clawback" provisions to demand money back if they don't fulfill all agreements made.