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LIPA

District to hold May 1 community forum to discuss status of lawsuit over power plant’s tax assessment

Northport High School. File photo

Northport school officials are calling for Long Island Power Authority to uphold a decades-old promise over taxes on its power plant as a June trial date looms.

Superintendent Robert Banzer has called for LIPA to stand by a 1997 agreement made between the district, the utility company and former New York State Gov. George Pataki (R) in an April 16 letter to community residents. Banzer alleged the power company had agreed not to seek to lower the assessed tax value of the Northport power plant as long as local authorities did not abusively increase it over time.

“While it is a very complex issue that goes back to the 1990s, it boils down to one simple premise: LIPA made a promise to our school district and we are fighting hard to make sure they, and others, continue to fulfill their promise,” Banzer wrote in the letter.

LIPA made a promise to our school district and we are fighting hard to make sure they, and others, continue to fulfill their promise.”
– Robert Banzer

In 2010, LIPA and National Grid filed a lawsuit against the district challenging the assessment of the power plant and demanding a 90 percent reduction in taxes, also seeking the difference in tax refunds retroactively.

“Obviously, a 90 percent reduction to the power plant’s assessment would be devastating to the school district, its residents and most importantly, our students,” Banzer wrote.

The district currently receives about 38 percent of its overall revenue from the taxes paid on the Northport power plant, or the equivalent of nearly $53 million per year.

The superintendent said the district has been involved in settlement discussions with LIPA “which at this point, has not yielded a reasonable resolution.” The utility company’s latest proposed settlement would be a 50 percent reduction in taxes over a nine-year period, according to the
superintendent, which would increase the tax burden on district residents by millions per year. Banzer said if this proposal took effect, the schools would be forced to “make additional modifications, including cutting programs and staff significantly.”

In his letter to residents the superintendent stated that the district remains open to negotiating a settlement with LIPA. He did not respond to requests for further interviews.

The two parties have limited time to reach an agreement as a state supreme court trial is slated to begin in June.

Obviously, a 90 percent reduction to the power plant’s assessment would be devastating to the school district… ”
– Robert Banzer

State senators John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) introduced legislation April 20 that could help mitigate any potential impact of the lawsuit on Northport taxpayers. The bill seeks to lengthen the time frame over which LIPA’s taxes would be gradually reduced from nine years to a proposed 15 years. In addition, it would grant the municipal governments and school districts who lose a tax assessment challenge to LIPA after April 1, 2018, access to the state’s electric generating facility cessation mitigation program. This way, town government and schools could create reserve funds to mitigate the burden on their taxpayers.

Other municipalities, villages and school districts have had better success in bargaining with the utility company to varying degrees. Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced April 3 that the town government had reached a settlement with LIPA on its assessment lawsuit over the Port Jefferson power plant. Port Jefferson School District officials called this news “deeply troubling.”

“This decision will … place the school district in harm’s way,” the district’s statement said.

A community forum will be held May 1 at 7 p.m. in Northport High School’s auditorium where district taxpayers can learn about the potential impacts of the LIPA lawsuit on their school taxes and their children’s education as it moves forward.

 

2018 BOE candidates Ryan Biedenkapp, Mia Farina, Jason Kronberg, René Tidwell, Tracy Zamek and Ryan Walker. File photo by Alex Petroski

Six candidates have come forward to run for three vacant seats on the Port Jefferson School District Board of Education.

The three-year terms of trustees Tracy Zamek, Mark Doyle and Vincent Ruggiero expire this year, though only Zamek is seeking another term. She joined five other community members at the Port Jefferson High School auditorium April 24 for a meet-the-candidates event, hosted by the district’s three parent-teacher associations.

Doyle, who ran a write-in campaign when he was re-elected in 2015, said in an interview he will not seek a fourth term, citing growing professional obligations and a desire to have his seat filled by someone more able to offer up their time. Ruggiero did not respond to a request for comment sent to his school district email.

The candidates were asked six questions about relevant issues to the district — including the potential for lost revenue as Brookhaven Town and Port Jeff Village hammer out settlements with the Long Island Power Authority over an assessment dispute on its Port Jeff power plant — and education more broadly, and were allowed opening and closing statements. Each candidate also submitted personal bios to the administrators of the event, which were publicly distributed.

Meet the candidates

Tracy Zamek: She was first elected to the board in 2015. Zamek has lived in the district since 1996 and currently has two teens attending local schools. She is currently a fifth-grade teacher in the Hauppauge school district. She cited her desire for fiscal responsibility and to advocate for students as her reasons for running again.

“I believe every single student who attends Port Jefferson schools deserves a premier education,” she said. “Now more than ever, the people in this village and school community need to work together as one, in regards to the LIPA/National Grid gorilla staring us in the face.”

Ryan Walker: He moved to the district in 2010 and also has two children attending Port Jeff schools. Walker spent 10 years as a New York State police sergeant, followed by three years as a security guard in local schools. He was one of New York’s first nationally certified school resource officers in 2002.

He said his experience in law enforcement “will be an asset regarding the safety of the students in our schools.”

“I will work to balance the concerns of the residents with a common sense fiscal management plan to address our overall district funding needs,” he said.

René Tidwell: She has a daughter in sixth grade, and a long work history in banking and financial services. Tidwell currently works as a special education teacher’s aide. She is running because she wants to lend her
expertise in financial planning to help the community plan long term for the possibility of less annual property tax revenue, citing a need for not only student advocacy, but for taxpayers.

“With over 20 years of experience in banking and financial services, I will focus on data-driven research, analysis and long-term planning to develop solutions for our district’s funding requirements,” she said.

Jason Kronberg: Dr. Kronberg is a pediatrician with two children in district schools. He moved to Port Jeff in 2003 from Queens and cited his willingness to listen to all sides of a debate along with being “fiscally conservative,” yet “socially liberal” as assets he’ll bring to the district if elected.

“I was asked to become a member of the school board to serve as a rational and non-biased voice in what has become a contentious environment,” he said.

Mia Farina: She is a NYPD officer with a 6-year-old son in the elementary school. Farina said her philosophy if elected would be “if it’s important to your child it’s important to me.” She said her experience as a police
officer makes her uniquely qualified to address security concerns within schools.

“I would bring all my knowledge and assist the schools in every way to help keep our children stay safe at school and educate them in every possible way I know how,” she said.

Ryan Biedenkapp: He has a daughter and twin sons, and said an autism diagnosis for one of the twins precipitated their move to Port Jeff from Oceanside. He has experience as an occupational therapist and currently works in pharmaceutical sales.

“I see a need to increase communication among all stakeholders, while staying focused on the needs of all students,” he said about his reasons for running. “By increasing communication among all community stakeholders, building a stronger sense of community among students and staying focused on fiscal responsibilities, Port Jefferson will remain a school district we can all be proud of.”

The budget vote and trustee elections are on Tuesday, May 15.

Port Jeff Superintendent Paul Casciano and board President Kathleen Brennan. File photos by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

The Port Jefferson board of education voted unanimously to adopt the district’s nearly $45 million 2018-19 budget April 18. This comes eight days after the board decided to table the resolution as it sought more specifics on an announced “agreement in principle” between Town of Brookhaven and the Long Island Power Authority over the utility’s property tax assessment on its Port Jefferson power plant.

Ongoing litigation has loomed over the district and Port Jefferson Village, which each receive substantial amounts of property tax revenue as a result of housing the plant. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced April 3 the town had an agreement in principle to settle the case with LIPA, though specifics of the agreement have yet to be made public. Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant has also publicly said the village is nearing a settlement in its version of the dispute with LIPA.

“The board of education and district administration have been working tirelessly on creating a budget that addresses our responsibility to provide an excellent education for our students in a physically and emotionally safe and secure environment that is balanced with sensitivity to the fiscal impact on our residents,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said April 18. “The proposed budget assumes that a finalized agreement between the Town of Brookhaven and LIPA does not materialize in time to impact the 2018-19 school budget.”

Casciano said during the April 10 meeting taxpayers should prepare for the possibility of program cuts and/or property tax increases in the coming years.

A letter from Romaine to Casciano and BOE President Kathleen Brennan dated April 11 said the town attorney and assessor’s offices have been in touch with district officials to make the district aware of how a settlement would impact the 2018-19 town assessment rolls, which directly impact school tax rates.

The adopted budget carries a 2.27 percent tax levy increase and a 2.23 percent increase to state aid. The 2018-19 budget rolls over all programs from the current year, with contractual raises and higher health
insurance costs for faculty and staff driving the 3.65 percent overall budget increase.

The district also presented a backup plan should an official settlement be reached between the town and LIPA prior to June 30, which would impact the current year assessments. PJSD is prepared to make $130,000 in reductions to help mitigate a possible 5.67 percent drop in assessed value of the plant, or a 50 percent reduction in the assessment spread out evenly over a nine-year span.

On April 20, state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) introduced legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) that would authorize municipalities to obtain “tax certiorari stabilization reserve funds” via the Urban Development Corporation Act in the event agreed-upon settlements result in loss of tax revenues or increased tax levies of more than 20 percent. The bill is before the state Senate finance committee.

District hoping for details on Brookhaven, LIPA settlement before finalizing 2018-19 spending plan

Port Jeff Superintendent Paul Casciano and board President Kathleen Brennan. File photos by Alex Petroski

An announcement by Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) April 3 was supposed to provide clarity, but it has done anything but.

Romaine announced during his State of the Town address Brookhaven had reached a settlement with the Long Island Power Authority, which would end the legal battle being waged since 2010 regarding the assessed valuation and property tax bill the public utility has been paying on its Port Jefferson power plant. While in the midst of preparing its 2018-19 budget, Port Jefferson School District officials said in a statement they were caught off guard by the announcement and, as a result, the board of education moved to delay
adopting its proposed budget during a meeting April 10. The board will hold a special meeting April 18, when the budget will be presented before a vote to adopt. School budgets must be submitted to New York State no later than April 20.

“We don’t know what the terms of that agreement are — as a matter of fact, there is no agreement.”

— Paul Casciano

“When you plan to make reductions, you need to know how much to reduce,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said during the meeting. “That is the problem with what the town announced, because essentially what the town announced was that they reached a tentative deal. We don’t know what the terms of that agreement are — as a matter of fact, there is no agreement. That’s what we have learned. There are a lot of things that have been talked about at the town level. We have been spending a lot of time trying to find out what the details are.”

Town spokesman Kevin Molloy refuted Casciano’s claim that a deal is not in place.

“We have an agreement in principle, it has not been finalized or signed,” he said in a phone interview. “The town has sought state aid as part of this agreement. This state aid was not included in the recently adopted budget. We are continuing to work with LIPA for a settlement to this case that is fair for our residents and uses any funds from this settlement to reduce electrical charges to ratepayers.”

The town has not shared details about the agreement in principle publicly.

Casciano was asked by resident Rene Tidwell during the April 10 meeting if the district had long-range plans to address the likelihood it will be losing a chunk of the annual revenue the district receives as a result of the power plant’s presence within the district.

“I’m deeply concerned that this potentially devastating issue has not been more proactively addressed in the years since it was first initiated,” Tidwell said during the public comment period of the meeting.

Casciano strongly pushed back against the idea the issue hasn’t been a top priority for the board and administration.

“We have an agreement in principle, it has not been finalized or signed.”

— Kevin Molloy

“The plan is very simple — you cut staff, which results in cutting programs,” he said, though he also put the onus on residents to prepare for possible future tax increases. “There comes a time where it’s not all going to be the school district
cutting programs and cutting staff. At some point, taxpayers — and it may be this year — are going to see an increase in their taxes. We don’t assess. The town assesses. The village assesses.”

Board president, Kathleen Brennan, also disagreed with the idea the board has not been prepared to deal with the LIPA situation.

“I’ve been a board member for eight years,” she said. “Going back those eight years on that board and every subsequent board, this board has addressed the issue head on and has done things that you haven’t read about on our website.”

Board member Vincent Ruggiero first motioned to remove budget adoption from the BOE agenda.

“Given the uncertainty and the fact we don’t have a clear answer from Brookhaven, we have a week that we can adopt this budget, I’m just proposing that we wait as long as we can for some type of response, although we probably won’t get one, and hold the vote next week,” he said.

The public portion of the special April 18 meeting of the BOE will begin at 6:30 p.m.

Port Jeff includes $107K in 2018-19 budget for anticipated “glide path”

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant. File Photo

The potential ramifications of the looming LIPA lawsuit specter may finally be coming into focus.

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant announced during a public hearing April 2 on the 2018-19 budget the village is “on the cusp of a settlement” with the Long Island Power Authority, which would end the legal battle being waged since 2010 regarding the assessed valuation and property tax bill the public utility has been paying on its Port Jefferson power plant. LIPA has argued the estimate is too high based on decreased energy demand, and the village accused LIPA of breaching its contract, which was supposed to run until 2028. The village and Port Jefferson School District receive substantial revenue from LIPA’s tax dollars and have had the prospect of lost revenue hanging over future financial planning. Port Jefferson is among other municipalities, like Northport, which host plants that have lawsuits against LIPA and believe the contract has been breached.

Garant said the board came to the decision to write $107,000 into the upcoming budget to create a reserve fund to prepare in anticipation for a “glide path” agreement, in which the village’s LIPA revenue will be scaled down gradually over time. The figure was chosen to bring the total budget’s tax levy increase to exactly 2 percent, thus avoiding asking residents to pierce the cap. The 2018-19 adopted budget is $10,642,146, about $233,000 up from to the current year, with the largest driver of the increase being the money set aside to deal with LIPA.

“The appropriations of reserves that we have accumulated over the last six to seven years aside, once we know what the glide path looks like, we will be putting our fund balance, monies that we’ve built, into that reserve account, which kind of locks it away so that future boards, if there should be future boards, can’t take that money and do something else with it,” Garant said. “It’ll preserve that money and entrust it to contributing toward the glide path.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced during his State of the Town address April 3 it had reached a settlement with LIPA on its version of the assessment suit. Village Attorney Brian Egan said Brookhaven’s settlement would have no impact on Port Jeff’s discussions, and that negotiations were ongoing.

“This year it’s basically another rollover budget like we’ve had in the past with very minimal changes,” village treasurer, Denise Mordente, said during the presentation. Other factors contributing to the budget increase included contractual raises for village employees, the increasing minimum wage, increased costs for medical benefits, and some additional funds for code enforcement that were used for installing security cameras and maintenance throughout the village, among a few others.

The board also passed a resolution that would give it the option to pierce the tax levy increase cap — as it does every year — should it need to do so, though that is not in the village’s plans for the upcoming year.

Port Jefferson School District offered a scathing statement in response to the news about Brookhaven’s settlement, saying it is “deeply troubled,” to hear of the settlement.

“This decision will imminently place the School District in harm’s way,” the statement said.

This story was updated April 4 to remove information mistakenly included about a public budget vote, and to include a statement from Port Jefferson School District.

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). File photo

New York state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) wants to make it more difficult for LIPA to increase rates for its customers.

LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) introduced the Long Island Power Authority Rate Reform Act in January, a bill drafted to require the not-for-profit public utility’s board of trustees to “protect the economic interests of its ratepayers and the service area,” in addition to the interests of the utility company when considering a rate increase proposal, according to a joint press release from the lawmakers. The bill would also prevent LIPA from increasing rates to offset revenue losses associated with energy conservation efforts, like the installation of energy-efficient appliances and lightbulbs. If passed, it would be mandated the board hold public hearings within each county overseen by LIPA prior to finalizing rate plans.

Currently, LIPA’s board is required to consider three criteria when a rate increase is proposed by the State Department of Public Service: sound fiscal operating practices, existing contractual obligations and safe and adequate service, according to the press release.

“While we have been working to keep Long Island affordable by implementing measures like the 2 percent property tax cap, LIPA approved the largest rate increase in its history,” LaValle said in a statement, citing a three-year rate increase approved by the board in 2015. “This measure will enable more community input by mandating a public hearing when considering rate changes. In addition, this legislation would provide the trustees with the tools necessary to reject rate increases that would cause additional financial burdens on Long Islanders.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant each voiced support for LaValle’s bill.

“The record amount of investment in reliability, customer service and clean energy all come at a time when electric rates have remained roughly flat for decade,” LIPA Trustee Tom McAteer said in a statement through spokesman Sid Nathan. “Customer satisfaction is significantly higher and customers see PSEG Long Island crews tree-trimming and storm-hardening the electric grid throughout the year. Those are the facts. Not opinion. The Reform Act is working for our customers.”

The LIPA Reform Act was enacted in 2013 to revamp the utility’s operations, including empowering the board to decide on proposed rate increases. PSEG Long Island — which operates LIPA’s distribution systems — Media Relations Specialist Elizabeth Flagler said in a statement the company is reviewing the legislation and will be monitoring its status.

The proposed legislation comes as municipalities continue settlement discussions pertaining to lawsuits filed by Port Jeff Village and Port Jefferson School District — both in LaValle’s home district — in addition to the Town of Huntington and Northport-East Northport School District against LIPA to prevent the utility’s challenges to property value assessments at the Port Jeff and Northport plants. The result of the lawsuits could have a dramatic impact on Port Jeff Village and its school district, as both entities receive substantial property tax revenue as a host community of a LIPA power plant.

The Port Jeff plant is currently used about 11 percent of the time, during periods of peak energy generation demand, an argument LIPA has used against the village’s public pleas to repower its plant and give LIPA more bang for its tax-assessment buck. A 2017 LIPA study predicted by 2030 the Port Jeff plant might only be needed about 6 percent of the year, thanks in part to the emergence energy efficient household appliances. In August 2016 New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) mandated that 50 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, by 2030.

Bruce Blower, a spokesman for LaValle, did not respond to an email asking if the proposed legislation was drafted with the lawsuits in mind, or if a settlement was imminent. Both the senate and assembly versions of the bill are in committee and would require passage by both houses and a signature from Cuomo prior to becoming law.

The Shoreham power plant on North Country Road provides peak power to the community and payments in lieu of taxes to the Shoreham-Wading River school district. Photo from Jason White

A Brookhaven organization recently saved energy in the most literal sense, and a reliable revenue stream too.

The Town of Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency (IDA) announced Nov. 27 it prevented the shutdown of an electric-generating plant in Shoreham, which provides peak power to the community and is expected to contribute $852,000 in property taxes or payments in lieu of taxes, commonly known as PILOTs, to the Shoreham-Wading River school district this year.

Brookhaven’s business arm has entered into a new, 20-year PILOT agreement with owners of the 90 megawatt, jet-fueled facility located on 10 acres of land on North Country Road, leased by the Long Island Power Authority. The facility’s previous PILOT and power purchase agreement between LIPA and Brookhaven expired this past August after 15 years.

In the proposal for the PILOT, which became the adopted policy when it was approved by the IDA in January 2017, projected gradual benefits range from $1.2 million in its first year to $1.7 million in its 20th.

The partnership began in September 2016 when members of J-Power USA — owners of the facility since 2010 — realized the expired pact would bring about a 33 percent reduction in revenue and a 50 percent reduction in economic benefits. The members were also told by LIPA representatives that the nonprofit would not be involved in negotiating a new PILOT.

“We wanted to see if Brookhaven would be able to offer a new PILOT that would  allow us to remain financially viable and our agreement has removed that big uncertainty,” said Jason White, director of asset management at the J-Power Shoreham branch. “Our facility uses General Electric combustion
turbines and while it doesn’t operate a lot, it’s important to the electric grid for stability purposes. It’s maintained so that it can respond very quickly if it’s called upon.”

White said although there had to be consideration to disassemble the power plant and move off Long Island in the case an agreement couldn’t be reached, it wouldn’t be a simple process, and the facility’s six
employees live close by.

“Our preference all along was to continue to operate the plant site and to continue to be a contributor to the local community,” White said.

By securing the power plant’s place in Shoreham, revenue is boosted for the school district, which relies heavily on it as a source of both energy and property tax revenue.

“I am pleased that we have been able to close on this new agreement with J-Power,” said Frederick Braun, chairman of the IDA. “Had we been unable to keep this plant from moving off Long Island with this new agreement, the Shoreham School District and other taxing jurisdictions would receive no payments at all, resulting in an even larger loss to those taxing jurisdictions.

The school district, which included the finalization of $852,000 in PILOT revenue in its Revised and Lowered Expenditure Budget & Tax Levy in October, approved the agreement in a resolution during a board meeting last Jan. 10.

“Be it resolved that the Board of Education of the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District supports the proposed financial assistance contemplated by the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency in connection with the J-Power Peaker Plant,” the letter read.

Lisa Mulligan, the IDA’s chief executive officer, said she had been in contact with the district’s board of education since meetings began with J-Power “as they were the most impacted by this.”

“We didn’t want to pursue something if they were not interested in it,” Mulligan said. “But the board wrote to us and told us they were … I think it’s important to bring money into the school district and also provide this power to residents when it’s needed.”

Officials say the subcontractor for PSEG/LIPA is violating town code

Material outside Asplundh Construction, located across the street from Mount Sinai schools. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Brookhaven Town leaders are determined to stamp out what they’ve deemed an illegal eyesore in Mount Sinai — a commercial retail area turned industrial facility on Route 25A near the entrance to the school district campus. Officials said by being there, the owners and tenants of the property are willfully violating town zoning codes and damaging quality of life in the process.

During a press conference Aug. 22, town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), along with town officials and a civic leader, stood across from a fenced-in lot where concrete is crushed and dozens of the Asplundh Construction company’s trucks, as well as poles and large spools of cable, are stored.

A lineup of Asplundh Construction trucks on the company’s lot. Photo by Kevin Redding

Romaine said the type of activity on the property, which is owned by Nkp Properties LLC, of Farmingdale, is illegal under J-2 zoning and is restricted to industrial property only — a fact he said Nkp is aware of as it paid a town-issued fine of $4,000 in April. Despite paying the fine and pleading guilty to violating the town code, Nkp continues to use the property. The group was met with more fines July 24, which included a ticket for a second offense of the code violations and for not having site plans to try and legalize the activities on the site.

According to the town’s deputy attorney, David Moran, the attorney for Nkp  at the time “acknowledged that the use was not appropriate and said he was going to try to get all the necessary site plans and approvals in.”

No one from Asplundh Construction returned phone calls for a request for comment, and visits to the site for questions were directed back to the telephone number.

Officials during the press conference called on the company, a subcontractor of PSEG and LIPA, to vacate the property as soon as possible.

“The parents that drop their children off at the school, employees and civic members— residents in Mount Sinai certainly don’t appreciate what’s going on across the street from us.”

Jane Bonner

“The last time I looked, LIPA was a public utility whose subcontractor is willfully flouting zoning laws in the Town of Brookhaven,” Romaine said. “That type of zoning violation is one we will not stand for. We are particularly concerned because this is adjacent to the Mount Sinai schools. We’re asking that they come into compliance or we have to take further action.

The property was previously the site of a party equipment rental business. When Asplundh moved in, a structure on the site was demolished.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said it’s negatively impacting the town.

“One of the things that the Mount Sinai community is desirous of is a corridor that is user-friendly and appealing to the eye,” Bonner said, looking at the Nkp property behind her. “I’ve been in office almost 10 years and for the past eight years, the property behind me has been a constant source of complaints from the community, the parents that drop their children off at the school, employees and civic members. Residents in Mount Sinai certainly don’t appreciate what’s going on across the street from us.”

Bonner said she would like to settle this problem before the start of the new school year. More than 30 Asplundh trucks, she said, drive in and out of the lot every morning, which can become a safety concern once buses join Route 25A traffic.

Ann Becker, president of the Mount Sinai Civic Association, also expressed her concerns.

Mount Sinai Civic Association President Ann Becker talks about her feelings toward the construction company across the street from Mount Sinai schools during a press conference Aug. 22. Photo by Kevin Redding

“The civic, which recently celebrated 100 years, has been working to maintain the quality of life here in Mount Sinai for all that time and we continue to do so, and we continuously get complaints about this location and now it’s becoming even worse than it was before,” Becker said. “We’re really wanting to have nice businesses here and we’ve done a lot of work on beautification … what’s happening behind us is absolutely against everything the civic has stood for.”

She said she hopes the current owners ultimately cease and desist so that the location is turned into something more appropriate for the community.

Moran said he believes the businesses will try to get away with the violations as long as they can in order to maximize every dollar out of it to help fund construction projects.

“From a prosecutorial standpoint these types of flagrant violations will not be tolerated in the Town of Brookhaven,” he said. “You can’t just buy property and use it to your will. We have codes that must be followed and, in this instance, I can assure you that we will ensure that they follow our codes.”

Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

By Alex Petroski

The terms of two Port Jefferson Village board trustees and the mayor are up this year and an election awaits them June 20, but in a race devoid of actual opponents, those up for reelection have opposition in the form of difficult, long-range challenges to square off against instead.

Barring a groundswell of support for a potential write-in candidate, incumbent trustees Stanley Loucks and Larry LaPointe, as well as incumbent Mayor Margot Garant know they’ll be serving the community for another two-year term after the election.

Garant will embark on her fifth term in office, while Loucks is set to begin his second and LaPointe his fourth.

Port Jefferson Village residents will see only incumbents on the June 20 ballot, including Margot Garant, left and Stanley Loucks. Photo by Alex Petroski

With long-term issues looming, like large-scale apartment developments and an ongoing legal battle with the Long Island Power Authority, Garant said a focus of her first four terms has been to bolster the village’s sources of revenue in any way possible. Beautification projects funded in large part by state and county grants are underway in upper Port, the area surrounding the Long Island Railroad station, in an effort to get blighted and vacant properties back on the village’s tax roll and attract private investors to build in the area.

“I really wanted to make sure that we …had a beautiful new gateway on the south side of the village that made you feel like you were entering the village of Port Jefferson in upper Port,” Garant said. “I think we owe that to the upper Port community.”

Loucks, who serves as the board’s liaison to the village-owned Port Jefferson Country Club and to the village’s recreation department, said his focus has been on improving and building up each of those village assets in the hopes of attracting members and village participation — another source of village revenue. About $100,000 of tax dollars were invested to improve the golf course’s village-owned grill room, which Loucks said is now an asset for the club.

“This year alone our membership, for the first time since I’ve been involved … is up,” Loucks said during the May 25 interview. “We’ve had a decline in membership over the past 10 years. Approximately 50 members per year on average have left us either through attrition or they’ve passed away or they’ve moved away or gone to other clubs. This year we’re up.”

LaPointe, the deputy mayor, was someone Garant pointed to as a possible successor when she decides to step away.

“I’m happy to see Margot in that chair because I think she’s been a wonderful mayor,” he said in an interview. “I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of this and that’s why I continue to do it.”

All three incumbents surmised that a lack of challengers could serve as proof residents are happy with the job the board is doing. Garant explained that the platform of the Unity Party, the name the three have attributed to their joint ticket, is to do what’s best for the community. The result has been a board that has a positive and productive rapport, according to Garant.

“We may not always agree, but we’ll always be able to listen. We’ll try and compromise, but largely we’re not on opposite pages,” she said. “I think if you put your self-interests aside and say, ‘What’s in the best interest of the village?’ we’ll all get there together. I think that that’s how
we survived.”

Trustee Bruce Miller, who Garant said tends to have differing opinions from the rest of the board at times, said in a phone interview he wished his colleagues faced some opposition because it would be a chance for different viewpoints from the community to be brought to the forefront.

“There are some ideas that I have, but there’s nobody to bring these ideas forth,” he said. “I’m not completely thrilled, but at some level it does reflect some contentment in what’s going on.”

He reiterated that the working relationship within the board is overwhelmingly positive.

Bruce D’Abramo, the fifth member of the board, said in an email he fully supports Garant, Loucks and LaPointe in their reelection bids.

LaPointe expressed a similar sentiment regarding varying viewpoints from residents being heard and represented.

“I think in a way it’s a disadvantage because when we run with an opponent, which we’ve done several times, it forces us to take the time to go and knock on doors, and the last time we found that very, very fruitful,” he said. “I want to talk to some people other than the people who typically come to board meetings.”

Each of the three candidates expressed a desire to see solutions to some of the more difficult problems through to the end before stepping aside.

A lawsuit is currently pending that includes the village and the Port Jefferson School District as plaintiffs against LIPA, associated with the power authority’s desire to pay less in property taxes at sites like the Port Jefferson power plant because of its condition and infrequent use. The village and district receive substantial amounts of revenue from property taxes because of the presence of the plant.

Port Jefferson Village residents will see only incumbents on the June 20 ballot, including Larry Lapointe. Photo by Alex Petroski

Garant said in an interview in her office May 25 the village will continue to build up its unencumbered fund balance as a savings to use in the event a settlement is reached between the two parties that results in a loss of revenue for the village. The plan is to reach an agreement with LIPA with a gradual reduction in their property taxes, should the village’s first choice of repowering the plant not happen.

In addition, three apartment complexes in the village are at various stages of completion, which will in total result in nearly 300 new living spaces for new village residents. The expansion is expected to stimulate local businesses, but could wreak havoc on the school district should renters with school-aged children flood the homes, with little gain in property tax revenue because of financial assistance agreements reached between the property developers and the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency.

The village will receive PILOTs, or payments in lieu of taxes, for 15 years instead of actual property tax revenue thanks to the agreements.

For example, The Shipyard apartment complex being constructed by TRITEC Development Group, across from Port Jefferson Harbor on the corner of East Broadway and Barnum Avenue, would net the village about $49,000 in property tax revenue in 2025, according to Garant. Thanks to the agreement, the PILOT payments in that year will amount to about $3,000. Garant estimated the losses for the village to exceed a half a million dollars by 2030. She said she and the board opposed the agreement between the Suffolk IDA and TRITEC. However, building permits and other fees written into the village code will serve to offset a small portion of those costs, Garant added.

Increased traffic and the sheer size of the projects have also caused angst among some longtime village residents.

Extreme low temperatures caused enough demand to require use of the Port Jefferson Power Station. File photo by Erika Karp

The Long Island Power Authority is tied up in a battle with communities including Port Jefferson Village that host, by LIPA’s estimation, outdated and increasingly obsolete power plants with steep property tax sticker prices. After the release of a study on the possibility of refurbishing and repowering, among others, the Port Jefferson Power Station, the power authority now has the data to back up their assertions.

LIPA released its 2017 Integrated Resource Plan and Repowering Studies April 22, a report conducted by their partner PSEG Long Island’s engineers, energy specialists, planners and consultants, which was later independently reviewed by consulting firm the Brattle Group and the New York State Department of Public Service.

Trustee Bruce Miller speaks at a hearing opposing National Grid’s proposal to lift limits on peaker unit output. Photo by Alex Petroski

In August 2016, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) mandated that 50 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, by 2030. The study found that if LIPA were to achieve compliance, it would be overkill to cover times of peak demand that renewable sources couldn’t cover by repowering the Port Jefferson steam unit plant, which runs on oil or gas, and increasing its use. Currently the plant, which was built in the 1950s, is only used about 11 percent of the time. LIPA’s study suggested that number could be as low as six percent by 2030 if trends regarding the efficiency and availability of renewable sources of energy continue.

The study also concluded forecasts for peak demand are decreasing, due to an increase of energy efficiency products on the market for consumers, meaning the repowering of the Port Jefferson Power Station would not be necessary in years to come. The plant has the capacity to produce about 400 megawatts of power, and LIPA’s study said they need to add about 800 megawatts of renewable power sources to be compliant with Cuomo’s mandate by 2030 as is.

A lawsuit is currently pending that includes Port Jefferson Village and the Port Jefferson School District as plaintiffs against LIPA, associated with the power authority’s desire to pay less in property taxes at sites like the Port Jefferson power plant because of its condition and infrequent use. The village and district receive substantial amounts of revenue from property taxes because of the presence of the plant. The lawsuit alleges LIPA is breaching their contract, which runs until 2028.

The village has proposed that upgrading and repowering the plant with updated technology would be a fair compromise to allow them to continue receiving the same amount of revenue.

“A plant like this should really run about 80 percent of the time,” LIPA chief executive officer Thomas Falcone said in an interview. “In the ‘90s they were running about 50 percent of the time. Right now Port Jeff is running 11 percent of the time, which basically implies it’s running in the summer … it’s not to say we’ll never build another power plant, it’s just to say that these aren’t the right power plants to build. You put in all of this investment optimized around a plant that is going to run 24 hours a day. If it doesn’t run 24 hours a day it’s a very, very expensive plant, which is the wrong kind of plant.”

Falcone added LIPA still needs the plant, and utilizing more peaker units, which are meant to supplement other energy sources and are only used in times of peak demand using gas or oil, would be a sensible way to utilize Port Jefferson going forward. He said LIPA’s goal is to reach an amicable solution for everyone involved.

“We’re a state-run utility. We’re a state-owned, community-owned utility,” he said. “We find ourselves in a situation that is a real sticky wicket for everybody. The community obviously is entitled to compensation for hosting a power plant. On the flip side we have 1.1 million customers and I think only about 3,500 of those customers live in Port Jeff Village. So those other 1.1 million customers are also entitled to pay a fairer level of compensation and not an excessive one.”

Falcone and village Mayor Margot Garant both said settlement discussions are ongoing between the two sides, and Garant said a proposal was submitted to LIPA about 30 days ago.

“We’re a state-run utility. We’re a state-owned, community-owned utility. We find ourselves in a situation that is a real sticky wicket for everybody.”

— Thomas Falcone

Garant weighed in on the findings of the reports in a phone interview.

“We’re digesting these reports, we’re doing our homework and gathering data, and we don’t agree [with the findings of the report on the possibility of repowering],” she said. “Our concern is that report is driving a conclusion that they wanted to have instead of being objective.”

The Brattle Group issued a statement regarding the possibility of repowering.

“None of the plants are needed for reliability or economic purposes. For all the options the plant costs exceed their benefits for at least the next decade,” the statement said in part.

In March, Port Jefferson Village hosted two public hearings to allow residents to voice opinions on a petition issued by National Grid, another LIPA partner in delivering power to the island, to the New York State Public Service Commission asking for caps on peaker output to be lifted. Village residents and trustees contended at the time the move was a thinly-veiled effort to squash the hopes of repowering the steam unit.

Bob Foxen, chief executive officer of Global Common, LLC, was contracted by Port Jefferson Village to study the plausibility of a scaled-down plant that would utilize peakers and upgraded steam units at the current Port Jefferson site, a compromise that Falcone said he would be open to. Foxen’s study is ongoing.

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