St. Lawrence University gets nod from the county for $80 million bond through the IDA
BY JEFF CHUDZINSKI
North Country This Week
CANTON — St. Lawrence County Legislators have signed off on approval for an $80 million bond for St. Lawrence University that will come at no expense to the county or Industrial Development Agency.
The passing of the resolution, which is a technical formality to allow St. Lawrence to secure a municipal bond, means the IDA will now have to finalize the process before the bonds are sold on the open market.As described by Patrick Kelly, director of the IDA, Morgan Stanley will facilitate the sale of the bonds on Wall Street, with private equity firms purchasing the bonds and essentially lending the money to the university.
Funds from the bonds will be used to primarily complete necessary repairs and upgrades to many historical buildings on campus, including academic buildings, dormitories and various other infrastructure around campus.
The remaining portion of the bond, roughly $36 million, will be used to refinance an existing bond to a much lower interest rate, officials say.
The restructuring and refinancing of the bond will place the university in a much more advantageous and fiscally sound position to spend or bond in the future, officials say.
Legislator Harry Smithers spoke in support of the resolution, citing St. Lawrence’s commitment to and investment in the North Country.
“We can’t override their non-profit status and I don’t begrudge them that,” he said.
“To emphasize our role in this, we’re just kind of an avenue to authorize the tax exempt role that is going to be in play. So it doesn’t cost St. Lawrence County, we’re not putting any money into this. Just to be sure the public knows, we are not giving them finances,” he continued.
Legislator Jim Reagen also spoke to the potential job creation that will come from the projects on campus.
“Who is going to get those contracts? It’s going to be local pavers, local roofing companies, it’s going to be local contractors, movers, all kinds of folks who are looking for employment and this will help St. Lawrence University compete for students,” he said.
Reagen continued on, saying it has become increasingly more difficult to fill campuses and the global competition for students has only intensified.
“We are helping a future employer that offers a great deal to our quality of life to compete in global market for students to bring students and families, faculty and staff to St. Lawrence county,” he said.
Reagen also commented on the tax exempt status of the local universities, mentioning the New York Power Authority and Ogdensburg Psychiatric Center have long enjoyed tax exemptions that helped maintain hundreds of jobs in the North Country.
Not all legislators agreed with backing the bonds however, as Legislator Larry Denesha voted against the resolution for “philosophical differences.”
““Not to diminish any of the contributions St. Lawrence makes as to the higher education they provide, however this is another example, I know there is no cost to St. Lawrence County, they are a 501(c)(3) and as such not subject to property taxes. And if all 501(c)(3) around the county, hospitals, churches, schools, if you add it up you probably have less than 50% of the people paying 100% of the taxes,” he said.
St. Lawrence University, like all North Country schools, is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and has held that status since 1933.
Legislator Kevin Acres also highlighted the economic impact the university has on the local economy, saying the $270 million annually contributed to the economy “from just that little campus” was nearly double the $139 million local dairy farms add to the economy.
Acres went on further, saying it was prudent for the legislature to approve the bonds to better position St. Lawrence financially for the future.