12:09pm

Fri March 23, 2012
Politics and Government

Back-taxes force Syracuse IDA board member to resign

Two days after being publicly outed for owing Syracuse and the county nearly $97,000 in back taxes, a board member of the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency (SIDA) has resigned.

His tenure with SIDA was short: He sat in on just two board meetings.

But one of those meetings included a "yes" vote on a controversial tax break for a proposed construction project on the University Hill.

And that was the catalyst for his ouster.

Darin Price was appointed to SIDA by Mayor Stephanie Miner.

At a Tuesday hearing on the University Hill project, Common Councilor Lance Denno brought Price's outstanding bill to the attention of the council, and SIDA Chairman Bill Ryan (Ryan also serves as Miner's chief of staff).

“I believe it is inappropriate to have someone that is delinquent on their personal property tax obligations sitting in judgment of requests for tax benefits,” Councilor Denno said in an email to WRVO.

Price was not at that meeting and didn’t know about the delinquent taxes until getting calls afterward, he said.

He resigned from the SIDA board on Thursday, according to the mayor’s press secretary Lindsay McCluskey. The mayor’s office declined to comment further on the matter.

Qualifications

Being on SIDA’s board is a voluntary position and board members are not paid. The issue of Price’s appointment to the board raises issues of the vetting process for SIDA, said Denno. 

Denno made that clear as he peppered SIDA chairman Ryan with questions during the council hearing Tuesday, building up to outing Price on his back taxes by first asking Ryan what the qualifications are for sitting on the board.

Ryan was not able to give a definitive list of qualifications, but said Price is no less qualified than himself.

Price argued his qualifications Wednesday morning, telling WRVO, "I have been a successful businessman in central New York, something that's not easy to do."

Councilor Denno also pointed out he was not comfortable with a member of the Syracuse IDA not living within the city.

The large tab

Price owns a commercial furniture supply company in Syracuse, as well as the property he used to live on in the city’s Near West Side neighborhood - the latter of which Price said he didn't know about.

Price purchased a home on West Onondaga Street in 1989, according to the property deed. He and his wife moved off that property and out of the city in 1994 after a large fire, Price said in an interview Wednesday morning.

After that fire, Price claims he told the city he wanted to donate the property back to the city and someone in City Hall told him he was no longer responsible for the land and "do not worry about it."

But both the city and Onondaga County have been billing for taxes on the property for the past 18 years, including a demolition charge during the 1998-99 fiscal year for $21,293.11. With interest, that bill is now $32,100.17.

Taxes on the property from 1994 to 2011 total $44,631.04 with additional interest of more than $52,000 for a total of $96,896.16.

In his mind, Price says, he longer owns the property.

"Snake in the grass"

Price calls the way Councilor Denno handled the matter “cheesy."

Price contends Denno did not identify himself as a common councilor when he asked Price if he used to live on West Onondaga Street, prior to the Common Council hearing Tuesday morning.

“He came at me like a snake in the grass,” charges Price.

Denno asserts he does not know Price, and his reason for calling out his tax issue was not a personal attack, but one against SIDA’s practices.

But Price sees the issue differently.

“I pride myself on trying to live life the right way, take care of my responsibilities, and for someone to assassinate my character like that, I’m not happy,” Price says.