NY power agency rents to golf courses, yacht club

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli speaks during a news conference on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The New York Power Authority leases public land in the St. Lawrence region to two golf courses, a local boating club and a private university at little or no cost and often without collecting the rent, according to a state audit released Tuesday.

The review of the authority’s property management by the state comptroller’s office found it collects only a few thousand dollars of rent each year for the four properties, though the audit says rental guidelines suggest the annual payments should exceed $200,000.

The authority operates hydroelectric and gas-fired plants throughout the state and owns nearly 50,000 acres of land, some of which is rented out for other uses. Federal regulators require the agency to prioritize recreational uses for some of the land it rents out. Renting land to one of the golf courses, for instance, is spelled out in the authority’s license to operate the nearby hydroelectric facility.

“It’s part of the support we give to the community, supporting these recreational measures,” said authority spokesman Michael Saltzman, who noted that some of the rental relationships go back decades. “We have had relationships with these groups for years and they make important contributions to the community.”

The audit, which examined records from 2010-2013, recommended that the authority do a better job of tracking its real estate holdings and evaluating the benefit of its leases. State law requires public authorities to notify the governor and Legislature when it leases property at a rate that’s less than the fair market value; the audit found that the authority had not done this in three instances.

The authority has vowed to comply with all applicable rules about reporting its leases.

Four leases were highlighted in the audit — all of them in northern New York.

In one example, a St. Lawrence County golf course rents land assessed at $1.8 million for $2,000 a year. The fair market rent is calculated to be $180,000 a year. The club golf course is private.

The authority also leases land to a public golf course for $200 a year but hasn’t collected rent since the 1990s.

The St. Lawrence Yacht Club hasn’t paid its $2,700-a-month rent since 2010 for land it leases from the authority, though it has made some improvements to the property that were accepted in lieu of rent.

The fourth property involves a boat house owned by the authority that is being leased to St. Lawrence University at no cost, instead of the fair market rent of $10,000 per year.

“The unusual nature of these deals makes it critical that NYPA fully document and disclose the nature and justification for them,” said Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in a statement accompanying the audit. “NYPA hasn’t shown that these tenants are the only ones that could provide required recreational use of these properties.”

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