County Executive Neuhaus Talks, Economic Development, Government Center, Valley View, Medical Marijuana
John Jordan | September 3, 2015
In his second year of office after winning the County Executive post in the November 2013 election, former Chester Supervisor Steve Neuhaus has had to tackle some major issues, including the ongoing debate over the redevelopment of the Government Center in Goshen, a renewed focus on economic development and the pursuit of casino gaming, and his administration’s concerted efforts to turn around county government finances.
Real Estate In-Depth recently sat down with County Executive Neuhaus at his offices in Goshen to learn the latest on these matters that will have a significant impact on Orange County’s economy for years to come.
Q: How is the Orange County economy faring in comparison to last year at this time?
Neuhaus: Fantastic, compared to last year, which was like “Apocalypse Now.” We had a $60-million deficit. We didn’t know if we would get through 2014 and we did a lot of corrective measures. At the end of the day the most impactful that produced the strongest results was the early retirement incentive… When we did the early retirement incentive we shed 300 to 400 positions. We cut $30 million out of the budget last year (from the early retirement program)…
For the first time since 2008 the tax base grew in Orange County in 2014 by about 1%. But, we had shrunk by about 25% since 2008. Those are big numbers. Are we out of the woods yet? No way. Do we still have to be careful? Oh yeah! But the economic development that is happening here is staggering… You have a lot of sexy projects out there. For example, Project Blackhawk which is a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company coming to Hamptonburgh, you have Amy’s Kitchen moving forward (with a plant in Goshen), Angry Orchard, which is great and retains our rural agricultural identity. You have Touro Medical School, which was last year’s BIG news. Why is it important this year? Every year they add 135 new medical students. So they are growing. Those students are spending money and staying here and they scored higher than their peers in the same medical school based in New York City. The other thing we are working on with them is marrying my medical examiner’s office (with the medical school). Our medical examiners are top notch, they work for New York City, but the facilities they have (behind the 911 Center in Goshen) are subpar in my opinion… What I am looking at in the future is to marry them to the campus of Touro College where you will have students actively participating in autopsies. Touro College is thinking about creating a School of Pathology there.
You also have the medical campus growth here. You have Orange Regional with a huge $100-million (expansion) project. You have Crystal Run Healthcare opening its new facility in Newburgh and they are now clearing land for a new facility in the Village of Monroe…
Editor’s Note: County Executive Neuhaus also touted the New York Air Show, which attracted thousands of visitors to Stewart International Airport on Aug. 29-30.
Q: After much delay, work has finally begun on the redevelopment of the Orange County Government Center in Goshen? Are you pleased that it appears construction can now commence?
Neuhaus: Major work has begun. There were six court cases and we won them all… I would have picked building a brand new building, but the consensus of the Legislature was for the county to do this modified rehab and build some new and retain some of the old. The will of the people is the Legislature so we have moved forward on it. My biggest concern… was to get something done. And it is now going on over four years that the Orange County Government Center has been closed (due to storm damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee). The residents have been disserviced in my opinion. It has cost a lot of money; we have a lot of people that work for us that are couriers that have to bring something from one side of the county to the Supreme Court (for example) as well as many other places… That is just one of the major projects going on right now…
Editor’s Note: County Executive Neuhaus then detailed a major capital investment program being undertaken by the county to fix its infrastructure, particularly roads and bridges, as well as outdated buildings laden with asbestos or in disrepair.
We are spending tens of millions of dollars (on capital improvements). At the end of the day, once these buildings are done all these leases countywide are going to starting drying up because if I own buildings there is no reason for me to lease buildings at the same time. That will save us a lot of money. We are (currently) spending millions of dollars on leases. We also own buildings that are empty (due to needed repairs).
Q: So with this capital program, will you will eventually be looking to relocate county operations from leased space to owned space?
Neuhaus: Absolutely. I also should mention that Orange County Airport (in Montgomery) is doing a major airport (runway) realignment. Note: County Executive Neuhaus said the more than $10-million project is to prevent flooding on the main runway that has occurred from overflow from the nearby Wallkill River.
The realignment will give us a new runway and 95% of the bill is picked up by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) with a new automated air traffic control system. Work is underway now. Next month begins the new tax incentive for aviation (concerns) to come to New York State. We already have people registering trying to come to Orange County Airport…
Q: What has the county decided to do with its Valley View Center for Nursing Care and Rehabilitation?
Neuhaus: We lost a decision in the courts (to try to sell the facility) and I am now moving the county in a totally new direction. We are going to keep the nursing home. We are going to look to outside private entities to start partnering with. We have the property around Valley View that can be developed into a full-fledged medical campus. So there is a new life for Valley View.
Under my administration we never would have closed it. That was one of the options before I took office. We were thinking about selling it. The Legislature overwhelmingly voted 12 out of 21 to sell it, but the courts didn’t like it and said we needed more votes. We are now moving in a new direction to keep this facility. Editor’s Note: Orange County Executive Neuhaus said that the county might issue an RFP to partner on certain operations with the county at Valley View to lower costs, increase revenue and secure higher reimbursements.
Q: Have you stemmed the losses from Valley View?
Neuhaus: Valley View has taken an about face since I took office. Before I took office when it was costing us well over $10 million (a year) it is now costing in the single-digits (in millions) today. One of the main reasons—the early retirement incentive. There were 425 employees working at Valley View when I took office, now there are about 350. Every 10 employees (reduced) are at least $1 million (in savings). If you have shed 75 employees, that’s more than $7.5 million.
Editor’s Note: County Executive Neuhaus also discussed some other major developments in the pipeline in Orange County, including the CPV Valley Energy project in Wawayanda. Construction of the $900-milion project, which has been bitterly fought by some local residents, is currently underway.
In addition, PharmaCann has secured state approval to build a medical marijuana production facility in the Town of Hamptonburgh. The firm has received approvals to build its facility that will grow state-approved medical marijuana products.
The Illinois-based firm will build its facility on more than 42 acres at the Hudson Valley Crossing property. Phase one of the project calls for a 25,600-square-foot “head house” and two 47,606-square-foot grow buildings, along with 98 parking spaces and three secure loading docks. According to documents filed with the Town of Hamptonburgh, future phases call for four new grow houses (two planned for phase two and three) and an additional 10,800-square-foot research building and a 9,000-square-foot head house expansion is also possible, putting the total build-out for the project at 331,236 square feet.
Another major project in the pipeline has been code-named “Project Blackhawk.” Also to be housed in the Town of Hamptonburgh, the company, which reportedly is McKesson Corp. of San Francisco, is seeking to build a nearly 341,000-square-foot warehouse facility also at the Hudson Valley Crossing property.