PENDLETON, NY - "Well, I guess they're not about to let the facts get in the way of a good story," said Pendleton Town Supervisor James A. Riester, when asked what he might say to New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's staff.
DiNapoli's office produced an audit that strongly criticizes the town's purchase of 96 acres of land off Beach Ridge Road for $187,000.
Among other things, it says the town failed to do due diligence when it pegged its hopes on 20 acres of the land being turned into athletic fields by a youth soccer organization, which-after showing some initial interest, begged off citing concerns about encroaching on wetlands there.
But Reiter insists that - hoped for soccer fields aside - the actual intent of purchasing the land was to acquire "park land" ,...which could manifest itself in many ways including but not limited to leaving land the way it is ...in the form of a nature preserve, bird sanctuary, or for a host of any other recreational purposes.
"That's what the majority of that land was going to be in the first place," Riester told WGRZ-TV, while claiming that many neighbors opposed the idea of a soccer complex on the land and calling "unfair" the Comptroller's assessment that town leaders essentially used taxpayer money to buy a pig in a poke.
"We still plan to use it as a "passive" park, with recreational trails and picnic areas and things like that," Riester said.
However, despite Riester's insistence that the land will be utilized appropriately by the town, it remains idle and undeveloped nearly five years after the town purchased it.
"We're a pay as you go community and we don't intend to incur large debts for the sake of developing land. When we get some grants and have some money set aside we'll do the work. We're not going to go out and borrow like say, for example, the State does," Riester said.
Still the Comptroller insists that at the end of the day, the town spent nearly $200,000 for something which failed to materialize as intended, and criticizes not only the amount the town paid for the land, but also notes it failed to even have an appraisal done on the parcel before purchasing it.
"Our (town) assessor does appraisals and knows what things cost," responded Riester, who says the town came up with its purchase price by comparing what developers had been paying for other vacant parcels in the town.
"I think the amount we paid was right in the ballpark,...we paid about $1,800 per acre, and I don't think you can buy land for that much less in the town," Riester said.
Reister also defended the town's effort to secure green space amid somewhat of a housing boom.
"They're not making any more property in the Town of Pendleton, once it's gone it's gone. This fits into our master plan, gives us far more open space, and there aren't a lot of 100 acre parcels left here."
Despite a recommendation by the Comptroller that the town now sell the land it purchased, Riester says he has no intention to do so.
"No. And in reality if we went out and tried to sell it after they beat us up about it, then we'd certainly take a loss on it so that would be silly on our part," Riester said.
Click on the video player to watch our interview with Supervisor Riester.
You can read the entire audit and the Town's response by clicking here.