Letter to the Editor: LumberYard Benefits Come at Price

Despite defense of LumberYard mounted by residents, the project is too costly for Collingswood taxpayers, resident Joseph Dinella writes in a letter to the editor.

To the Editor: 

As I read about that our predominately empty-nester new neighbors at the LumberYard enjoy, some questions arise. The bargains—thanks to the down market and municipal largesse—they secured in the purchase price of their homes plus the incredible incentive of a 50 percent tax abatement that they currently enjoy courtesy of the Collingswood taxpayers, have a cost.

As I have told one of the families mentioned—whom I have known for some time—it is the financials of the LumberYard that are its downfall. All the other taxpayers in town pay more in municipal taxes to service the $15.05 million debt ($6 million more is on the way) to subsidize the construction of market-rate homes. Should the many subsidize the few?

Of the $450,000 in taxes paid by properties at the project this year, not one dollar goes to the schools. Is it fair that other taxpayers pay more in school taxes to make up that shortfall?

These are reasonable questions to ask of a project that by any metric is wildly over-budget and four years behind schedule. If this is considered stone throwing from the sidelines, could someone please explain how then—with a municipal government that lacks the fabled checks and balances that are the hallmark of our national republic and but one election every four year—is local government held transparent and accountable for its actions by its citizens?

Continuing to sing "Kumbaya" obfuscates the seriousness of our elected government's poor decisions.

Joseph Dinella


Want to share your opinion on Collingswood issues? Send a letter to the editor to Associate Regional Editor Lauren Burgoon, lauren.burgoon@patch.com. 

Pat Kelly February 16, 2012 at 12:53 PM
For some reason, Mr. Dinella doesn't understand that the tax abatement (which we did not receive - we pay probably twice what he does in taxes), is only for 5 years. After that, ALL the money goes to the same place it goes now - to the borough. And, yes, we are a group of predominantly empty nesters. Only one child in the entire Lumberyard community attends school. To use his words against him, "should the many subsidize the few?" Mr. Dinella, unfortunately, in case you haven't noticed, we are in the midst of a severe economical downturn. These buildings, and the people who reside here, quite happily I might add, will be paying taxes for the rest of our lives. It is in yours, and our, best interest to stop the mud-slinging and allow the project to progress to its finish. We have no doubt that it will be a complete success in the long term, which is why we put OUR money into the venture. What have YOU done to make it better?
Porterincollingswood February 16, 2012 at 01:25 PM
When I lived in the city, the tax abatement was pre-paid by the builder at time of completion. So the city did receive the money upfront, and it allowed the builder to offer a major incentive to potential buyers. A win-win-win...for builder, community, and buyer. Is that different in NJ?
cwoodhome February 16, 2012 at 02:47 PM
I feel that you Mr. Dinella have a personal vendetta against the Mayor and you are subjecting the rest of us to your rants that are not at all productive. Think of what you could accomplish if you stopped wasting your apparent abundance of free time to do something to help the situation not just dog it at every opportunity. Do you want this project to fail just so that you can say I TOLD YOU SO to the mayor and the residents of the lumberyard? Will that make you feel good then? Your biggest gripe seems to be about the taxes in this latest letter to the editor. What do YOU think we should do about the people who NEGLECT to pay their taxes? We carry that burden as well. It can be very interesting to see whose names are listed on those public records.
tangledup February 16, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Is it wrong to want your tax dollars spent wisely? I don't think so. Mistakes were made with the Lumberyard and good money seems to be being thrown after bad in this situation. I've yet to hear anyone in the borough administration admit mistakes were made; the project had issues before the economic climate changed. I don't think anyone wants the Lumberyard to fail but throwing money at it does not seem to be solving the problem. Everyone may not agree with Mr. Dinella's approach but I think he should be thanked for bringing an issue and information to light that the borough administration would have preferred left in a filing cabinet.
Porterincollingswood February 16, 2012 at 03:37 PM
And yet, the most likely scenario is the mayor running unopposed yet again. Tells you all you need to know about the opposition, dunnit?
Porterincollingswood February 16, 2012 at 03:58 PM
First of all, I'm not sure we have a choice in the financial burden we now bear. So that's the issue - why we're in that boat. I also have a big problem with how that went down, but there is no recourse for the actual debt, we own it. You can't just act like it doesn't exist and it won't go away if the mayor apologizes to satisfy the revenge fantasy of his enemy. Second, I can't take this guy seriously after the Landon debacle and his role in it. Sorry, just can't.
Kevin Wise February 16, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Well your comment doesn't hold water! who in their right mind is"quite happily" paying Jersey property taxes?
Pat Kelly February 16, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Okay, guys, enough already! Beating a dead horse doesn't make it any deader! Bringing an issue to light (been there, done that, many, many, many times) and trying to make the best of a bad situation (the housing crash and stand-still in construction caused by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) are two totally different things. It seems to me the obvious, intelligent way to fix the problem of the residents bearing the brunt of the tax issue is to get the place sold! I fail to understand how your constant whining and complaining changes anything. All it does it deter potential buyers from wanting to purchase here. How do you think that helps? And, again, I ask the question, what are YOU doing to change things?
Porterincollingswood February 16, 2012 at 08:08 PM
That's the point - in my opinion (based on the evidence we have regarding his actions) Joe's focus is on making the mayor look bad. But all it accomplishes is sullying the reputation of the town and its residents. Lookit, there's no going back. A time machine isn't going to be magically dropped from the sky onto anyone's front porch so that they can go back and prevent the Lumberyard from being built.
tangledup February 16, 2012 at 08:48 PM
The state records indicate the mayor's term isn't up until 2013 so it's a bit early to make any assumptions there. Very few people are financially able to run for mayor in the case of Collingswood; I admire the amount of time Mayor Maley puts in (for what I'm sure works out for a rate less than minimum wage.)
C hood February 16, 2012 at 11:06 PM
Perhaps, we should be upset over the fact this fiasco has caused our taxes to continue to increase while the services we are paying for ( like the street/roads dept., police, fire, etc) not only have decreased but have been decimated. Not to mention the back room deals, pay to play, and flat out lies associated with those involved. The politicians are thankful you keep arguing amongst each other because it prevents you from asking them questions and holding them accountable.
Porterincollingswood February 16, 2012 at 11:35 PM
C - and that's fine. We should be. But what profit does it bring (I'm talking about you and me, the local taxpayer) to continually bombard ANY discussion about the Lumberyard with such negativity? Nothing in the Op-ed is remotely new or insightful, everyone knows this info. If you want to further embarrass the mayor (who doesn't seem the least bit so, BTW), then this type of negative tactic makes sense. If you want to foster an environment where we sell the units and relieve the community of this debt, then such negative tactics make no sense. The housing market is picking up, hop on the team for the big win. We can do that AND ask questions about what happened and hold people accountable as those facts emerge.
Robb C. Sewell-Wolff February 17, 2012 at 12:24 AM
I think you misread. I believe Pat was saying that the Lumberyard residents reside there quite happily.
Pat Kelly February 17, 2012 at 01:27 AM
To Kevin Wood, you took my words out of context. We reside here happily. I pay (a whole lot of) taxes here. No one "happily" pays taxes. Some even don't (wish I knew how THAT is possible). To C hood, I believe the questions have been asked many, many times (a la Joe Dinella). How do you propose the issues to be resolved? How do you suggest we hold the politicians accountable? And what, exactly, does that mean? I fail to see how being upset, and constantly causing discord solves anything. It fuels the fire instead of putting it out. Everyone moans and complains and points fingers. We all know about "pay to play". Truth be told, had the market not crashed, this project would have been a resounding success and every naysayer would have been patting the mayor on the back for doing such a wonderful thing. Look, everyone wishes things had gone differently, but it is what it is. That said, I still contend that Collingswood and the Lumberyard are where I want to call home. And, yes, I am quite happy here.
Pat Kelly February 17, 2012 at 02:12 AM
Bravo, Porter!
Bob G-man February 17, 2012 at 01:18 PM
It is correct that we now own the debt (and some units apparently), and also correct that we need to find a constructive way out. But that is precisely the point - we are not flogging a dead horse, because this horse is in fact a still-living, decrepit nag that keeps dragging itself around spewing manure. What do I mean? Just the latest example - A couple months ago the idea was to take on more debt, acquire the units, and then rent them out. Suddenly, last month at the town meeting we are told that the other units cannot be rented out. Maley's attempts at resolving the issue appear more and more to be impotent flailing. That is why we need to keep at this.
Bob G-man February 17, 2012 at 01:20 PM
Part 2 How do we keep politicians accountable? Stop reelecting this guy. I have no personal animosity, and I'm pretty sure I voted for him once-upon-a-time, but the repeated mistakes (discussed many times by many people on this site) warrant a reconsideration of our political representation. That is why I really don’t care if certain individuals have personal issues, because the facts speak for themselves. Why not have a recall? Will you be on board Porter? Finally, stop making excuses that "the market crashed". Yes it did, but that started in 2006, and by 2007 it was blazingly obvious things were falling apart - the same year phase 1 came into being. For the sake of argument, let's give phase 1 a pass. Astoundingly, in the midst of a real estate market blowout followed by broader financial and economic disaster, we kept going with phases 2 & 3.
Bob G-man February 17, 2012 at 01:21 PM
Part 3 As someone who works in economic development and worked many years in commercial real estate consulting and appraisal, I looked at continued construction in the face of a cratered market with incredulity and amazement. One simply does not do that, one banks the land or finds an interim use and waits for the markets to stabilize. I worked on many such projects in the 1980’s. Then I felt for my wallet, and it was being rifled. I think the Lumberyard was, in fact, a decent idea. The numerous errors in the Lumberyard’s execution are the results of bad decisions, not the economic climate. The point of an apology raised by another writer is a valid one. It is not for the sake of an apology itself. It would mean that Maley recognizes his mistakes instead of blaming “the market”, and the constructive point of recognizing mistakes is to figure a better way out. Not once have I heard or read the words “workout” from the Mayor, which would mean bringing in a real expert to figure this out with the least damage to the taxpayers. Think of it this way with a football analogy – the old quarterback had some great games, and he helped build a team. But he has started throwing balls in the dirt, missing receivers, and fumbling. Let us give respect for his past successes. But it’s time for a new quarterback.
Porterincollingswood February 17, 2012 at 01:30 PM
Does that make Joe our Terrell Owens? But seriously, I think what I need is a timeline of what happened when. Does one exist? I, probably like many, just woke up one day to find out I owned part of the Lumberyard. That kinda shouldn't happen. Or at least throw me free parking there, right?
Will McGowan February 18, 2012 at 12:06 AM
It seems as Mr. Dinella may have a personal beef with the mayor and hoping the Lumberyard goes under does no one any good. However, his points are right on. I've been to meetings and not hear our mayor even take a slight responsibility on the Lumberyard...it's always the downturn, or Moody's, etc.... I've also seen the "dismissal" tactic when you bring up a point contrary to the mayor's and you are "eye rolled" into "next!" as if your opinion lacked any value. In other countries this is a dictatorship. I, too would like to see POSITIVE ideas on the Lumberyard and stop with the "told ya!" talk. Its here and we own it...now how do we get out of it? One thing is to consider revamping this town into a spot where young folks may want to live...slow down on restaurants, add a liquor liscense or two?? Think outside the box!
Will McGowan February 18, 2012 at 02:46 PM
I think Bob-G is pretty on the money. I'm kind of tired of hearing it was the fault of the economic times and Moody's. They didn't even stage a finished unit until 2009! All you got was Lego models in the private office that didn't market them. I also disagree that if it "had the market not crashed, this project would have been a resounding success ...". Placing units on the train tracks was not a good idea, period. Philly has had tons of development throught the downturn in NoLibs, Bella Vista, Grad Hospital, etc and it was minimally affected by the "downturn" because smart alternatives to building and pricing rolled with the times; the Lumberyard did not. When Main Street Realty took over it was already too far gone. I do favor "following the money" to see who got rich out of this from inception and who skated the blame game. Everything from the purchase of the land, the contract with Costanza and the marketing should be very transparant for the townsfolk to see "what they bought".
Anne Carroll April 19, 2012 at 10:02 PM
Dear Joe: While I do agree with many of your criticisms re: the LumberYard fiasco, from my perspective, our biggest current and pending problem is PARKVIEW, THE HEIGHTS, or whatever the heck it's called now. That piece of real estate is going to make or break our wonderful town while the LumberYard could actually turn into a winner. How did the PARKVIEW / HEIGHTS fiasco happen in the first place, and why does it continue to be a serious problem (crime-wise and financially) for all residents of Collingswood? I wish someone would do an investigation into The Heights. [Not me; I'm too old; not enough pep.] By the way, are you also known to our readers as "Future Old Angry Italian Man?" P.S. Sorry, I'm a little behind in my reading of The Patch or would have responded sooner.


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