The Vernon Township Council on Dec. 22 rejected a settlement agreement Mayor Howard Burrell had made with the Metairie Corporation, the owners of the Legends Resort and Country Club, that was intended to address delinquent taxes.
The council voted it down 3-2, with Councilwomen Jean Murphy and Kelly Weller and Council Vice President John Auberger voting against. Council President Harry Shortway and Councilman Andrew Pitsker voted for it, although he said he was expecting “a lot from “Metairie.”
According to the agreement, Metairie was to pay the township $472,660, which would have constituted full payment for 2019 taxes, which Mayor Howard Burrell said Metairie President Hillel Meyers had done.
According to the agreement the Construction Board of Appeals litigation would have been dismissed without prejudice and without costs and that Vernon should immediately approve and authorize the reinstatement of the liquor license.
Burrell said the municipal attorney told him it will probably cost more to litigate the construction case than the $60,000 in fees the township is owed.
Metairie would have been required to pay $388,151 by June 30, which would have constituted as 2020 taxes paid in full.
Metairie would have had until June 30, 2021, to obtain a final construction or mortgage loan for the redevelopment of the property or obtain a fully executed contract for the sale of the property. If unable Metairie or the property owner should retain an auctioneer to auction off the property, with remaining proceeds going to Metairie or the property owner.
’Not a perfect deal’
“This is not a perfect deal,” Burrell said. “This is not a perfect agreement, but I believe it’s a good deal and I ask the council as a collective group to approve this deal and not allow the perfect deal we all want to be the enemy of the good.”
Murphy disagreed, saying what would be best for the township would be for Metairie to pay its taxes.
“This is not a negotiation,” Murphy said. “This was just what would you like us to do, and we’re once again turning over to a large corporation whatever it is they please.”
Murphy suggested having Metairie pay its 2020 taxes by March 1 and then the township would consider removing its objection to the renewal of the property’s liquor license.
“That the property is more valuable to him if we release the license should not be the township’s responsibility,” Murphy said. “It should not be the responsibility of the taxpayers. We’re not here to help (Meyers) make more money. We’re here to make sure the town is being run properly.”
Pitsker, although he voted “yes” on the contract showed concern before the vote said companies like Metairie and benefiting from tax breaks and forgiveness on fines at the expense of the taxpayer had to stop.
“In the quest to find a solution, you’re giving him a Christmas gift by passing this resolution,” Pitsker said. “My expectations if we do, make good on your promise and give back to the taxpayers of this town. Bring businesses to this town to improve our ratables.”
Shortway said if Metairie failed to honor the agreement, the township would be back where it started.
“No one has been harder on Mr. Meyer than myself over the last four or five years,” Shortway said. “This agreement does not make me happy, but we need to go forward, and we need to take this chance for one year to see what happens.”
Pitsker said he voted “yes” to kick it down the road and hoping Metairie would honor the agreement.
“I don’t like the fact that it keeps getting painted that the only way we move forward is by this council agreeing on this resolution,” Auberger said. “There is nothing stopping the owner of this property from seeking any banking to redevelop or seeking to sell the property.”
Burrell said he had been negotiating with Meyer for about a year but doesn’t have a good sense of what he will since the settlement was not approved.
“This is not a negotiation. This was just what would you like us to do, and we’re once again turning over to a large corporation whatever it is they please.” Councilwoman Jean Murphy