State rejects Greene’s request for Belleayre audit

CATSKILL – The New York State Comptroller’s Office has denied Greene County’s request for a financial audit of the state-owned Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, but local officials say they will continue to pursue the matter.

County Legislature Chairman Wayne Speenburgh, R-Coxsackie, said even though the audit request was turned down, the county will not back down from its concerns about Belleayre, which competes with the privately owned ski resorts in Hunter and Windham.

Competition with Belleayre, located in the Ulster County town of Shandaken, has been an ongoing topic of concern for Greene County officials, who feel the state-owned resort enjoys competitive advantages over private resorts that hurt the Greene County economy.

In July 2007, the county Legislature called for a full accounting of Belleayre and a moratorium on all state-owned ski area expansions until an independent economic analysis could be done. In January, the Legislature adopted a separate resolution asking that the scoping document of Belleayre’s expansion include an analysis of the impact on neighboring counties.

In early March, the county requested a state audit of Belleayre to make sure the ski center was achieving its established goals, that public funds were being used efficiently and that assets were being adequately protected against fraud, waste and abuse.

In response, state Deputy Comptroller Lynn Canton sent a letter to Speenburgh, dated April 15, stating her office was "unable to commit sufficient resources to your request at this time." She said, though, that she would share the county’s concerns with the independent auditors who work with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which operates Belleayre.

Speenburgh said the county received a second letter from the comptroller’s office, also dated April 15, announcing that an energy audit of Greene County would be performed. He said the letter indicated the energy audit was part of a statewide process that all counties were going through, but that he found it odd that both letters were dated the same day. Speenburgh said the energy audit would examine the period of July 1, 2006, through April 30, 2008.

County Legislator Larry Gardner, D-Hunter, said he was disappointed in the comptroller’s refusal to authorize the Belleayre audit and that he hoped the county would be able to persuade the office to reconsider.

"I think the comptroller’s office can and should provide the taxpayers of New York with a clear financial analysis of the operations at Belleayre," Gardner said.

Greene County lawmakers have contended that Belleayre’s unfair economic advantages over Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl and Windham Mountain include state-subsidized product pricing, access to state funds for capital improvements with no accompanying debt service, tax exemptions, freedom from insurance costs and the ability to operate at a loss.

The state’s proposed expansion of Belleayre, forecast to cost $45 million, is to include the creation of new trails, lifts and lodges.

Interim Greene County Administrator Dan Frank said the state-owned ski resort is taking visitors away from Hunter and Windham and that the state should operate on a level playing field with private ski resorts.

Frank also said Greene County is deciding how to respond to the comptroller’s denial of a Belleayre audit. A plan should be formulated in the next four or five days, he said.

"At this point in time, from our perspective, the case is not closed," Frank said.

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