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We get it — if you read our newspapers or just about any other media that cover Long Island, you’ve heard enough over the past decade about the legal battles going on between several school districts and townships versus Long Island Power Authority.

If you feel like you’re on LIPA overload, we have some significant news — a major development occurred in the cases last week. A New York State Supreme Court judge determined that the 1997 Power Supply Agreement between National Grid, which owns the power plants, and LIPA, which transmits that electricity to customers, did not contain any language, or “promise,” that prevented the utility companies from seeking to have taxes they pay on the power stations reduced.

The good news is this decision may signal there’s a light at the end of the tunnel to this endlessly drawn-out court battle. We fear the positives may end there.

LIPA has said that its intention in filing these lawsuits is to be able to reduce energy bills for its customers, as it hopes to pay out less in property taxes. On its face, the company’s goal appears to a good thing for residents of Huntington and Brookhaven townships, who will likely see a reduction in their monthly electrical bills should LIPA be victorious, except for the residents in Northport and Port Jefferson, who will see a property tax increase. These odds seem an increasingly likely fact in recent weeks as courts have ruled twice  in LIPA’s favor.

However, these legal battles have been waged for nearly a decade, racking up what we can only imagine are substantial legal bills from lawyers hired to represent the municipalities and the school districts involved. Then adding in fees paid for a third-party mediator when sit-downs begin in September, we find ourselves asking, “At what cost?”

We hope to find out just how much taxpayers’ money has been spent on legal fees for the duration of the saga, so keep an eye out for that. And for what? The “Hail Mary” play that a court would determine the 1997 PSA had implied a legally binding promise that LIPA wouldn’t seek a reduction in its property taxes.

It was such a risky play for Brookhaven Town and Port Jefferson Village that those two municipalities have agreed to settle the cases out of court to avoid exposure to the risk of years of back pay should the issue actually end up in a trial loss for the two entities. Still, why did it take Brookhaven and Port Jeff until 2018 to finally reach a settlement while legal fees kept accruing?

All of this can also be looked at against the backdrop that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has set a goal for 50 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2030. Who’s going to pay for the solar and wind producing plants necessary, for example, to get on track in reaching that goal? We don’t think we’re going out on a limb in speculating that at least some of that cost will fall on LIPA’s customers.

While we’d like to think we’re inching closer to a day when we no longer have to report on legal issues pertaining to LIPA, a positive resolution for all stakeholders is going to take significantly more work. In reality, it should have been resolved long ago.

Northport power plant. File photo

Long Island Power Authority has won the latest battle against the Town of Huntington in the lengthy legal war over Northport Power Station’s value.

New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division has reinstated LIPA’s right to pursue a lawsuit against the Town of Huntington regarding the amount of taxes levied against the Northport power plant, reversing a September 2015 decision made by a lower court. A panel of judges ruled Aug. 8 LIPA does have legal standing to be a plaintiff in the 2010 lawsuit it filed jointly with National Grid.

“We believe the appellate court’s decision is correct.”

— Sid Nathan

“We believe the appellate court’s decision is correct,” LIPA spokesman Sid Nathan said. “We remain committed to reaching a fair settlement for both the local communities and our 1.1 million customers to put an unsustainable tax situation back on a sustainable path.”

In September 2015, state Supreme Court Justice John Bivona issued a decision dismissing LIPA’s standing as an initiating plaintiff in the tax certiorari case, since National Grid — and not LIPA — is the owner of the plant. Bivona had written that while LIPA believed its financial interests are adversely impacted by a wrongly overstated assessment of the power plant, “the result is still remote and consequential and certainly does not constitute a direct loss because the property taxes levied upon the Northport Power Station are actually and directly paid by National Grid Generation LLC.”

LIPA filed an appeal of Bivona’s decision in 2015. The utility has asserted while National Grid does own the power plant, the station is under contract with LIPA. Under the contract, LIPA is required to pay all costs to run the power plant — including the $80 million in annual property taxes to the Town of Huntington — and provide necessary fuel, for which in return it receives all electricity generated for its customers.

The utility company claims that its costs to operate the Northport Power Station including the taxes on it exceed the total revenue, resulting in LIPA referring to it as a “significant burden to LIPA’s customers.”

We’re reviewing the order from the appellate division and we’re considering an appeal.”

— Nicholas Ciappetta

With LIPA’s legal status reinstated as a party of interest on the tax certiorari case, the issue of the property tax-assessed value of the power plant could proceed to trial.

However, Huntington Town Attorney Nicholas Ciappetta has said he plans to carefully review the appellate court’s decision.

“We believe this has been wrongly decisioned,” Ciappetta said in a statement. “We’re reviewing the order from the appellate division and we’re considering an appeal.”

This latest legal decision comes less than a month after Huntington voted July 17 to hire a neutral third-party mediator, Marty Scheinman, in an attempt to reach a resolution with LIPA, National Grid and Northport-East Northport school district. The town agreed to pay Scheinman $1,150 an hour in addition to covering all out-of-pocket expenses, such as transportation and a one-time administrative fee, the total bill will be split among all parties in the mediation. 

Mediation has not yet started, but the first session is slated for Sept. 26, according to Chiappetta.

Update: Additional information was added to further clarify that the town will be splitting the costs of the third-party mediator. 

Huntington Town Hall. File photo by Rohma Abbas

As the Town of Huntington is entrenched in a lengthy legal battle with Long Island Power Authority, its elected officials are looking to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels and move to sources of renewable energy.

Huntington town board unanimously agreed to apply for a $62,500 grant from New York State’s Climate Smart Communities Grant Program at its July 17 meeting. If the funding is approved, the town will move forward with a study of its current energy use and how to transition to using more renewable energy resources.

There is a nationwide movement of towns pledging to go renewable by 2050 and we want Huntington to be one of those towns.”

– Jenny Strandberg

“There is a nationwide movement of towns pledging to go renewable by 2050 and we want Huntington to be one of those towns,” Jenny Strandberg said.

Strandberg is one of many Mothers Out Front, a grassroots community organization pushing for a transition to 100 percent clean and renewable energy, who asked Huntington officials to move forward with the study and renew their pledge to protect the environment.

“If everyone on the planet lived like the average American, you would need five planets,” said Jennifer Browns, a professor of sociology of LIU Post and Mothers Out Front member. “We need a commitment to 100 percent renewable energy and we need it now.”

Huntington first adopted the state’s Climate Smart Communities pledge in 2012. By taking the pledge, the town made several promises to its residents including trying to “decrease energy use” and “build a climate-smart community.”

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said in order for the town to become Climate Smart Community certified, it would need to hire a consultant to perform a Government Operations Greenhouse Gas Inventory to
assess what emissions its producing, a 100 percent Renewable Energy Feasibility Study and then a Capital Phase-In Plan to determine and set a schedule to meet the town’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. The estimated cost for those steps is approximately $125,000, according to Lupinacci. The town is seeking funding for half through the state grant.

“The sooner we get it in, the more we can beat people to the top of the line to make sure we show our commitment and we are ready to roll on it,” Lupinacci said.

Let me state clearly, it is LIPA’s policy to transition to renewable energy 50 percent by 2030.”

– Peter Gollon

The program requires the town provide 50 percent matching funds, for which it will pull $62,500 from the its Environmental Open Space & Park Fund Review Advisory Committee’s Green Project Fund. The committee has already approved the project.

Both East Hampton and Southampton townships on the East End have already become Climate Smart Communities certified by going through this process, according to Huntington resident Tara Kotlia. She said she would like to see the Town of Huntington become the third.

Peter Gollon, a Huntington resident and board trustee for Long Island Power Authority, said if Huntington moves forward with the study and transitions to renewable energy, it would bring the town more in line with the utility company’s long-term vision.

“Let me state clearly, it is LIPA’s policy to transition to renewable energy 50 percent by 2030,” Gollon said.

He stressed that LIPA and the power  companies will continue to push renewable energy as the future, and encouraged the town to do the same.

“It’s clear different communities must engage, set examples for each other and move toward clean energy, renewable energy as soon as possible,” Gollon said. “Huntington must continue to be a leader

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and the town board have taken steps that would allow the construction of a power plant in Yaphank, complicating the status of Port Jefferson's LIPA-run plant. File photos by Alex Petroski

It’s one step forward, two steps back for Caithness Energy, LLC in Brookhaven.

After securing a win in its efforts to advance the construction of a 600-megawatt power plant in Yaphank earlier this month, Caithness Energy LLC, an independent, privately held power producer informed by Brookhaven Town its special use permit for the site expired July 15.

The special use permit, initially approved in 2014,  granted Caithness permission to build a power plant on the site, according to Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto. It was granted for two years and  one-year extensions were approved twice, which is the limit under town law.

“We’re looking into it, but believe it has no bearing and we look forward to the next steps before the Planning Board,” Caithness President Ross Ain said in a statement.

The possibility that the permit might have expired was first raised by Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) during a July 12 meeting. She abstained from voting on a motion to lift a restrictive covenant preventing the project’s advancement due to amendments made to Caithness’ original 2014 plans, which included a reduction to the plant’s output capacity and updated technology. The other five councilmembers and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) voted to remove the covenant.

“They’ll have to file a new application for the special permit and we’ll certainly accept it,” Eaderesto said.
The town attorney noted Caithness still has a pending site plan application before the Planning Board, which would remain as such as a new special use permit is sought.

The proposed project has drawn opposition for its potential environmental impact from groups like Sierra Club Long Island and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket).

In addition, Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant has spoken out against the proposal, warning the construction of a second Caithness plant could push her community “off the economic cliff.”

The village has argued a way to make good with Long Island Power Authority over its decreasingly needed plant — and LIPA’s legal contention its Port Jeff plant’s property tax value is over-assessed and has been for years — could be to increase its output capacity. If constructed, the Caithness II plant, which would be built nearby the company’s first Yaphank plant opened in 2009, could theoretically kill plans to repower the Port Jefferson plan, according to the village.

Port Jeff Village and the town have said a settlement is nearing in an eight-year-long legal fight with LIPA, that will likely result in a gradual decrease in revenue from the plant’s property taxes, which help fund budgets for the village, Port Jefferson School District, the fire department and the public library.

Northport school district residents read and fill out letters to state and federal elected officials. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Northport-East Northport school officials are asking their residents to call on elected officials for immediate help finding a resolution to their seven-year legal battle against Long Island Power Authority.

Northport school district held a call-to-action forum May 30 in which it asked all residents to reach out to their state and federally elected officials to take action in bringing about a solution to the district’s lawsuit against LIPA and National Grid as a June court date looms.

“Our elected officials really need to hear from us,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said. “The more voluminous, the louder, the more persistent we are the more likely they are to listen.”

The more voluminous, the louder, the more persistent we are the more likely they are to listen.”
– Robert Banzer

Hundreds of copies of a form letter addressed to elected officials including New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), state Sens. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), and state
Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) were distributed for residents to sign and mail in to lawmakers. These letters call on elected officials to take action to help aid the school district stave off LIPA, which seeks a 90 percent reduction in taxes — a difference of approximately $56 million down to $8 million paid to the district — before the state Legislature’s sessions end June 20.

“LIPA must be stopped before it is too late,” reads a letter pre-addressed to Raia. “We are seeking your assistance in calling upon the governor to provide immediate assistance in Albany. Action by the governor’s office can stop the imminent harm to us as taxpayers, to our schools, our students and the community at large.”

As the June 11 court date rapidly approaches, Banzer and the Northport school district are pushing state officials to approve what they are putting forth as two possible solutions.

First, would be the passage of pending legislation of state Senate Bill No. S08235, sponsored by Flanagan with co-sponsor state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), and its corresponding state Assembly Bill No. A10496, which is co-sponsored by Raia. These bills would lengthen the time frame over which LIPA is seeking to have its taxes gradually reduced from nine years to a proposed 15 years. It would also grant those municipal governments and school districts who lost a tax assessment challenge to LIPA after April 1, 2018, access to the state’s electric generating facility cessation mitigation program, which provides funding to help offset any potential loss of tax revenue. In addition, the town government and schools would be granted the right to create reserve funds specifically for the purpose of reducing the future burden on their taxpayers.

The Northport power plant. File photo

READ MOREHuntington stays on track in LIPA lawsuit despite cries for help 

“It would provide some mitigation of the impact to us,” Banzer said. This would provide a glide path, it would provide a somewhat softer landing should there be a [change in] assessment.”

Northport school officials are also asking residents to directly call on Cuomo and the state Legislature to intervene by directing that LIPA, as a utility company overseen by a state-appointed board, to offer a “reasonable and equitable” settlement offer.

While previous settlements have been declined, Banzer made clear, “we would never say we wouldn’t sit down and have conversation on how to mitigate this.”

On May 9, Northport school district attorney John Gross presented his argument in Suffolk County Supreme Court as to why he believes LIPA should be held to what school officials are calling the “1997 Promise.” Under this promise, school officials allege, LIPA and National Grid agreed not to challenge the annual taxes paid on the Northport Power Station as long as they were not abusively increased over time by Town of Huntington. A decision has not yet been issued by Judge Elizabeth Emerson, despite the June 11 trial date approaching.

We need to continue to put pressure on [Huntington town officials] to speak for us on behalf of the community.”
– Jennifer Thompson

“I think the community needs to communicate with town leadership,” Northport resident Jennifer Thompson said, citing the years Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) served in the state Assembly. “We need to continue to put pressure on them to speak for us on behalf of the community.”

Councilman Gene Cook (R) said he would call for Huntington Town Board to hold a public hearing regarding using eminent domain to acquire the Northport Power Station.

“LIPA has been lying to us,” Cook said.

The councilman claims that LIPA’s assessed value of $193 million for the Northport power plant focuses only on the electricity produced, but does not account for gas lines, cable transmissions or other public utilities that are received from the power station.

“I’m going to fight this,” he said. “I’m going to fight this to the end and I want you to know that.”

Northport taxpayers who are interested in getting in contact with their elected  officials or reading the form letters provided at the May 30 meeting can find them on the district’ website at northport.k12.ny.us/
district/lipa_update.

Northport power plant. File photo

Huntington town elected officials refused to entertain a request to hire additional legal help in its lawsuit against Long Island PowerAuthority, despite calls from Northport residents for help.

Huntington Councilman Gene Cook (R) offered a resolution at the June 5 town board meeting to hire Manhattan-based law firm Boies Schiller & Flexner LLP as additional legal counsel in the town’s pending tax certiorari case with LIPA and National Grid over the Northport Power Station as the case heads to trial in July.

“I believe this is a very needed law firm to hire at this point,” Cook said. “For the money that this law firm would [cost], it’s a whole lot less than the hundreds of millions we stand to lose.”

For the money that this law firm would [cost], it’s a whole lot less than the hundreds of millions we stand to lose.”
– Gene Cook

A request to hear and vote on a measure was shot down by a 3-2 vote, by Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R), Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D).

“There are hundreds of thousands — millions of dollars at stake now in this case,” Lupinacci said. “Huntington has been fighting hard on behalf of the taxpayers. We will continue to use all legal options at our [disposal] to make sure LIPA and National Grid honor their contractual promises.”

LIPA filed a tax certiorari lawsuit against the town assessor’s office in 2010 seeking a 90 percent reduction in the tax assessed valuation of its Northport Power Station, and seeking repayment of all taxes it claims to have overpaid since 2010 — currently amounting to more than $550 million and growing.

Cook said the Manhattan-based law firm is one of the top litigation firms in the nation, although admittedly not specialized in cases related to power plants.

“We are losing a huge opportunity and it will hurt everyone out there by not doing this,” he said.

Several prominent Northport residents had pleaded with the town officials to support Cook’s resolution Tuesday afternoon including Northport school board trustee David Stein, who spoke as a private resident in support of the measure.

The army of attorneys, lobbyists and PR titans that we are against now requires an outsized army of our own.”
– David Stein

“LIPA and National Grid have brought in a veritable army of lawyers, lobbyists and [public relations] attack dogs,” Stein said, painting an image of a David-versus-Goliath fight. “The army of attorneys, lobbyists and PR titans that we are against now requires an outsized army of our own. And so, I urge you to engage the services of the biggest, best, brightest and most well-known in all of these areas now.”

Under Cook’s proposed contract, attorneys from Boies Schiller & Flexner would have been paid an hourly rate of not more than $1,650 an hour to assist the town’s current legal representatives from Lewis & Greer P.C. in determining a strategy and arguments for the upcoming trial. These accumulated attorney fees could not be bonded under state law, according to the town supervisor, but would have required dipping into the town’s capital reserves.

“If spending $1,650 were a silver bullet that would achieve something here, I would do it,” Cuthbertson said. “The law firm Cook would like to hire has absolutely no experience in tax certiorari cases that involve power plants.”

Lupinacci said he was willing to consider looking into other prominent litigation law firms which might be able to serve the town at a lower cost.

“Sometimes when [law firms] look at a municipality, they believe they are looking at deep pockets,” the supervisor said. “We have to do some outside the box thinking and leave no stone unturned.”

If spending $1,650 were a silver bullet that would achieve something here, I would do it.”
– Mark Cuthbertson

Northport Village Deputy Mayor Thomas Kehoe and Northport resident Tammy Topel both urged the Huntington town officials to take more aggressive action in light of additional information that has become public — spoken widely about by Cook — calling the Northport Power Station a hub through which natural gas lines and fiber optic networks for internet pass through.

“I believe these are misguided attempts to incorporate other aspects into the valuation process that just aren’t there,” Cuthbertson said. “It’s a red herring and unfair to the public.”

Cook vehemently disagreed with his fellow councilman in open debate.

The town is moving forward by pursuing help from its state elected officials, according to the supervisor, including scheduling a meeting with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to garner his support for a resolution to the case. Lupinacci said the town still remains open to negotiations.

“We are always speaking with the other side to see if there is some kind of resolution, but we are probably not going to achieve a resolution that is going to be beneficial to the taxpayers of Huntington and to our students,” Lupinacci said. “We are prepared to take this case to trial.”

Judge rules to adjourn June 11 trial date for LIPA versus Town of Huntington

Northport power plant. File photo

Northport school officials are inviting all district residents to a community meeting May 30 to address the potential impact of its lawsuit against Long Island Power Authority.

Northport school district will host a “call to action” community forum Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the auditorium of Northport High School. Superintendent Robert Banzer will provide residents with a brief update on the status of the district’s lawsuit against LIPA, legislation and what steps it can take to make sure resident’s concerns are being heard. The high school is located at 154 Laurel Hill Road in Northport.

This is the second meeting the school district will hold this month to address concerns over the LIPA lawsuit. School officials held a May 1 meeting where attorney John Gross presented his argument on why the utility company should be forced to uphold a 1997 promise not to attempt to lower the taxes on the Northport power plant.

LIPA has filed a lawsuit that is currently pending against the Town of Huntington to lower the Northport Power Station’s assessed tax valuation by 90 percent along with a reimbursement of all overpaid taxes since 2010. The Town of Huntington and LIPA appeared in court May 29 after which the judge adjourned the previously scheduled June 11 trial date, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo at 1:10 p.m. Tuesday.

No additional information was immediately available on why the June 11 court date was adjourned.

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

By Alex Petroski

Candidates for Port Jefferson School District’s board of education have thrown themselves into the world of public service at a tumultuous time for the district and education more broadly. To better inform voters about the positions of the six candidates vying for three trustee seats prior to heading to the polls May 15, each was asked to provide answers to the same  questions.

Candidate Mia Farina answered the questions during a phone interview while the other five chose to respond via email. Their answers to the questions, or answers in part, are provided below in alphabetical order by the candidate’s last name.

If the district loses revenue as a result of a LIPA settlement, how can the BOE scale down the budget without doing too much harm to existing programs?

There is the possibility of losing property tax revenue as a legal battle plays out between Port Jefferson Village, the school district and Long Island Power Authority, which has a plant in the village. The utility company contends Town of Brookhaven  overassessed and is seeking to reduce the assessment. The district receives about half of the revenue in its budget from taxes paid by LIPA based on the plant’s assessment.

The village and Brookhaven have publicly stated a settlement is on the horizon, the result of which will likely reduce the plant’s assessment, though few details have been shared. The district has publicized a plan for the budget should an official settlement be reached in time to impact the 2018-19 school year, with
proposed cuts to instrument rental availability, textbooks, athletic teams, clubs and overnight field trips, to name a few.

Budget highlights
  • $44,945,812 for total operating budget
  • 3.72 percent increase in 2018-19 compared to current year
  • Additional expenses would be covered with 2.27 percent tax levy increase and 2.23 percent state aid increase
  • All programs rolled over from current year in next year’s budget
  • Expense increase largely due to contractual raises and increasing health insurance costs
  • Second proposition on ballot to release capital reserves for roof repairs
  • Vote May 15 at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School

Ryan Biedenkapp: “There will need to be a scaling down of nonmandated costs by looking to trim where student participation fails to justify the cost. An increase in taxes combined with increased community participation in seeking alternative funding sources will also be required. Maintaining the academic integrity of Port Jefferson schools should be the guiding principle when deciding where reductions will occur.”

Mia Farina: “There’s actually grants out there — privately — [like] music grants that actually [pay for] musical instruments and pay for the maintenance of those instruments, so that alone would cover that lost revenue. I went to public school, and we did fundraisers. We could sponsor events. We possibly may lose revenue. If we could do anything to bring that back by having the community involved … ”

Jason Kronberg: “Depending on how severe the loss of revenue is, I’d like to hold forums with the community to come up with potential cuts to the budget.”

René Tidwell: “As a member of the BOE, I will work diligently to ensure the high standards the district has set for its instructional programs remain in place. I believe the district needs to form a Citizens Advisory Committee immediately, with the objective to assess the impact of the loss of LIPA revenue under various scenarios (such as 50 percent reduction of revenue, reduction on assessment or reduction on payments, etc.).”

Tracy Zamek: “The board can scale down the budget by looking at budget trends, participation rates, enrollment patterns and non-mandated costs. However, a combination of program adjustments and increased taxes will be necessary in order to absorb the significant loss of revenue. The community will once again be asked to provide input through a values survey and community forum response initiative. Understandably, not everyone is going to agree on every priority, but the most important thing to remember is our students come first.”

Ryan Walker: “Several suggestions that have been successful in other districts come to mind, such as encouraging increased philanthropic contributions, seeking out unused state and federal financial aid
opportunities and grant writing. The first thing to consider is what must the district have in order to maintain the high quality of education that makes families chose to move to Port Jefferson.”

Do you believe security officers and/or educators should be armed on school campuses?

Security in schools is never far from district’s and parent’s minds, though this has been particularly true in the wake of the latest mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, which left 17 dead. Neighboring districts have moved to employ armed security personnel, while some participated in the national discourse through walkouts.

Biedenkapp: “I don’t believe in arming teachers, ever. The idea of having an armed security person inside our schools is one that gives me pause. The retention of a single, possibly two, retired officers, who also was/were licensed air marshal that was carrying [a] concealed [weapon] at the front of the school at the vestibule or outside the school on the perimeter is something that I would be inclined to support.”

Farina: “Absolutely not. Their job is to educate, not to have the responsibility of a [carrying] firearms. Security officers, I believe, should be armed if they’re fully capable of being armed, meaning training is a huge priority.”

Kronberg: “Weapons-trained security can be an essential layer of protection for our schools. There is no definitive study on the effectiveness of this form of protection, but in my opinion it is something, with proper training, that can help prevent and deter violence. Arming teachers in schools is an irresponsible idea.”

Tidwell: “I believe the answer to this question is best answered by the community itself, and as a BOE member, I would recommend a town hall meeting to listen to the community’s ideas and concerns regarding security for our facilities.”

Potential cuts pending LIPA settlement
  • Reduction of rental of music instruments for students ($12,000) Reduction in equipment ($18,000)
  • Reduction of textbooks ($15,000)
  • Reduction of 6 budgeted sports teams based upon student interest ($37,000)
  • Reduction of 6 extra curricular clubs based upon student interest ($18,000) Elimination of overnight/long distance field trips (Busing/Chaperons) ($18,000)
  • Reduction in Board of Education organizational dues ($2,000)
  • Reduction in District Community Printing/Mailings (Newsletters/Calendars) ($10,000)

Walker: “I worked in two school districts as a nationally certified School Resource Officer for the New York State Police Department. At first, residents were hesitant to have a police officer in full uniform, which included a gun, in the schools. Resident hesitation swiftly dissipated as I worked to build a positive collaborative relationship with students, families, administration, teachers and staff.”

Zamek: “I absolutely do not support the idea of having teachers armed in schools. Guns do not belong inside our schools. However, I would welcome a village and community discussion about having professional armed security guards on the outside of schools, especially at arrival [and] dismissal and on the perimeter of fields during recess.”

Do you think BOE communication and transparency with taxpayers can be improved, and if so, how would you do it?

The district and board have been criticized by members of the community for a lack of transparency and for their communication methods on issues, like how the district informed parents of a social media threat made by a student in February long after it was received and via email instead of a robocall.

Biedenkapp: “We can absolutely improve communication with all stakeholders, as well as our transparency. With respect to the taxpayers the district Facebook page should be utilized to give a brief synopsis of each BOE meeting, along with the live video of the meeting and quick links to any pertinent web pages. The school’s web page is rather cumbersome, but design of a new website would be fiscally irresponsible at this time. Residents should have an ability to have their phone number added to the school robocall list.”

Farina: “I think there’s always room for improvement in any type of communication whatsoever. I haven’t really had an issue [with] school communication because I’m very active. … I would ask the community for ideas on how they would want to be notified. Who’s not getting information that wants information? How do you get your information?”

Kronberg: “Communication between the board and community, although strong in many ways, can always be improved. I’m excited for the ‘super team’ approach arrived at by the superintendent for this fall [which brings community members from different sectors together to come up with ideas to solve problems]. While the meetings are online and available, it may be a good idea to provide a question and answer email session with board members, where community members can write in and receive answers to specific questions.”

Tidwell: “I believe there are significant gaps in the BOE’s communication process with all the district’s stakeholders. I would establish a telephone communication protocol that includes all district taxpayers — not just the parents of children attending the district’s schools. I would ensure that taxpayers who currently do not utilize the internet or social media are informed of upcoming BOE events in a timely manner. I propose utilizing cellphone alert applications to remind residents of upcoming meetings, important announcements, etc., all of which could have ‘opt-in’ or ‘opt-out’ choices for all residents.”

Walker: “The current way of disseminating information is adequate for those with children attending schools in the district. However, everyone else must seek out information by checking the district’s web page on a daily basis to make sure they didn’t miss anything important. Printed newsletter mailings to residents are infrequent, costly and not always timely. All residents should have an opportunity to register their email addresses with the school to have the same information sent to them as parents of school children. Board members should make themselves more available to attend public functions, have face-to-face interactions with residents.”

Zamek: “There needs to be a greater emphasis on enrolling every community member on our connect-ed phone, text and email system. I have already started to improve communication between the school and village officials by creating a direct line of communication between the two offices. The school now informs the mayor’s office monthly concerning school board meeting dates and times and provides an agenda.”

Councilman Eugene Cook calls for residents to launch letter-writing campaign to Huntington Town officials

Northport power plant. File photo

Town of Huntington officials are moving toward making a power play against Long Island Power Authority and National Grid to take over control of the Northport power plant.

Councilman Gene Cook (R) has called for town residents to participate in a letter-writing campaign asking Huntington’s elected officials to consider utilizing eminent domain to take control of Northport power plant.

His proposal comes days after LIPA allegedly submitted documents to Suffolk County Supreme Court for its pending lawsuit against the town, in which it disputes the tax value of the plant, claiming the structure only has a fair market value of $193 million, according to Cook.

“Their estimate is so far out of wack on it, they are almost like giving us the plant,” the councilman said. “If they want to give it to us, I want to take it.”

Cook said he thinks the Northport facility is one of the biggest power plants in the Northeast, which will become more valuable with future improvements. He estimated the power station could produce $5 billion in revenue per year for the town if it took over operation of the facility. He suggested the name “Huntington Power Service Company.”

“We want to serve our residents, not be an authority over them like LIPA has done,” Cook said. “They have taken LI Power Authority as ‘we have authority over everyone.’” 

Their estimate is so far out of wack on it, they are almost like giving us the plant.”

— Eugene Cook

The councilman drafted a resolution he said he plans to present at the May 17 town board meeting for Huntington to hold a public hearing. If approved, a hearing will be held June 5 at 2 p.m. for residents to voice their thoughts and concerns on the acquisition of the plant from National Grid, which is the owner of the power station.

“The basis of this acquisition will be for the purpose of delivery to the public of electrical power in a safe and cost-efficient manner,” reads the draft resolution.

Under New York State law, the town must publish its findings and determinations on the proposed acquisition from the public hearing within 90 days. The Town of Huntington is due in court to face LIPA less than a week later June 11.

“We are looking at every facet of possibility here when looking at the LIPA situation because it’s a very serious situation,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “Any possibility that comes up we will review with our attorney — we will review it with experts to see if it’s feasible.”

Even if the town initiated the process of obtaining the power plan via eminent domain, it would not resolve the town’s lawsuit with LIPA. In addition to seeking a 90 percent reduction of taxes on the power plant, LIPA is asking for the town to reimburse it for alleged overpayment of taxes each year since it filed the claim in 2010 — totaling more than $500 million.

“Let’s save the consulting and legal expenses of evaluating this idea, which would be fiscally disastrous to the town, its taxpayers and wouldn’t resolve the pending tax certiorari litigation,” LIPA spokesman Sid Nathan said in a statement.

Let’s save the consulting and legal expenses of evaluating this idea, which would be fiscally disastrous to the town, its taxpayers and wouldn’t resolve the pending tax certiorari litigation.”

– Sid Nathan

LIPA disputes that the Town of Huntington could turn a profit operating the station, claiming Northport power plant is operated at a loss. The power company said its contract with National Grid requires it to pay all costs to run the plant — including $80 million in annual property taxes leveraged by the Town of Huntington — which exceeds its revenue. LIPA also stressed that if Huntington took control of the plant, all beneficial tax revenue would cease, leaving residents to pay more for their government services.

“We hope the town will join with other local communities on Long Island that are working with LIPA to reach a fair settlement offer that puts an unsustainable property tax situation at the Northport plant back on a sustainable path,” Nathan said.

The Town of Brookhaven and Village of Port Jefferson both announced they had reached settlements over the tax assessed value of the Port Jeff plant with LIPA in early April.

If the lawsuit is decided in LIPA’s favor, the utility company estimates that Town of Huntington residents would see their taxes increase by $62 a month, with Northport-East Northport school district residents responsible for an additional $210 to $220 per month.

Lupinacci has said the town remains open to bargaining with LIPA, while Cook said the only negotiation he is for is LIPA agreeing to withdraw its lawsuit.

“I will fight to the death on this one,” Cook said. “Either they want to be good neighbors or they don’t. If they don’t, they can hit the road.”

Northport school district attorney John Gross explains the LIPA lawsuit to residents at a May 1 presentation. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Northport residents are gearing up for a David-versus-Goliath showdown as school district officials will call on Long Island Power Authority to uphold its promise in Suffolk Supreme Court next week.

Northport-East Northport school district attorney John Gross will present his argument May 9 on why the utility company should be forced to uphold a 1997 promise not to attempt to lower the taxes on the Northport power plant.

As both the district and LIPA’s attorneys have asked for summary judgments, or immediate decision in their favor, Gross explained at a May 1 presentation at Northport High School to the public there could be a decision made that significantly impacts district taxpayers days before the 2018-19 budget vote.

“If there is a substantial reduction in taxes, the impact shifts to the individual taxpayers,” Gross said at the May 1 presentation. “That is the threat. That is the concern of which the school district has spent a lot of time and effort combating.”

If there is a substantial reduction in taxes, the impact shifts to the individual taxpayers.”
– John Gross

LIPA currently pays more than $81 million annually in taxes on the Northport power plant, according to a statement from the utility company. The school district receives approximately $53 million per year in tax revenue from the power plant’s taxes, which would pay for less than 40 percent of the district’s proposed $146 million tax levy for the 2018-19 school year.

“The $81 million tax burden on the Northport plant is not sustainable, especially as the output of the Northport plan is forecast to continue to decline, as more solar and wind energy is added to the electric grid,” LIPA said in a press release.

In 2010, LIPA filed a tax certiorari lawsuit against the Town of Huntington’s Assessor’s Office seeking a 90 percent reduction in the power plant’s taxes. The trial is scheduled to begin June 11.

Gross explained to residents in his May 1 presentation that Northport school district doesn’t have any standing in that lawsuit, but is a mere bystander because the Huntington Town assessor determines the assessed value of the plant, which is currently set at $30,255,550.

“The plant we believe is worth well over $3 billion,” Gross said, speaking to its fair market value.

In 2011, the district’s attorney filed a lawsuit against LIPA claiming it is the third-party beneficiary of a “promise” made in the 1997 Power Supply Agreement between LIPA and National Grid.

Gross pointed to Article 21.16 of the contract that reads the utility company, “may challenge any property tax assessment on its generating facilities or generating facility sites only if the assessment on any such challenged facility is increased not in an appropriate proportion to the increase in value related to taxable capital additions.”

The district’s attorney said he believes LIPA illegally broke contract when it filed the lawsuit against the Town of Huntington to lower taxes on the plant in 2010.

“From 1997 to today, [their taxes] have not been moved one dollar,” Gross said. “It has not been increased.”


Tax Impact of LIPA lawsuit
Assuming 2 percent school tax increase per year and average home assessed value of $3,700

If LIPA wins 90 percent reduction:
– 57.86 percent increase after 2 years
– 67.53 percent increase after 5 years
-81.33 percent increase after 9 years

LIPA settlement offer of 60 percent reduction over 9 years:
– 9.57 percent increase after 2 years
– 26.37 percent increase after 5 years
– 54.66 percent increase after 9 years

LIPA settlement offer of 9-year reduction to $28 million in taxes:
– 12.46 percent increase after 2 years
– 32.11 percent increase after 5 years
– 60.18 percent increase after 9 years

LIPA has refuted this claim for the last seven years. It stated that, “The alleged promises to the school district are not enshrined in the Power Supply Agreement between LIPA and National Grid or any other contract documents.”

Gross said his legal team has deposed 17 individuals on the 1997 Power Supply Agreement and what it contains, and filed more than 60,000 pages of documents with the courts. These documents point to the several 1997 events where former LIPA chairman Richard Kessel spoke with Northport school administrators and Huntington Town officials. Among them is correspondence sent between LIPA, federal agencies and elected officials including documents submitted to the Internal Revenue Service.

“They put the promise in black and white in submissions to the IRS that taxes would not be affected for the host communities — us,” Gross said.

The utility company’s defense is that the original PSA expired May 28, 2013, which was replaced by a new agreement that runs through April 2028. Therefore, the promise claimed by the school district expired nearly five years ago.

Gross claimed LIPA and National Grid said they renewed their original contract in 2013 through 2028, which should extend their promise to the school district for another 15 years.

The alleged promise contained in the 1997 Power Supply Agreement will take front and center stage in the court arguments May 9.

Gross warned residents they’re facing three potential outcomes next week. First, that the judge agrees with Northport’s position, keeping tax rates steady and LIPA will likely appeal. Second, the judge finds for LIPA that there was never a promise made to the schools.

“If it’s decided for LIPA, we are in deep trouble,” Gross said.

Third, if the judge decides both parties have raised significant issues then she can schedule the case to go to trial.

“I feel like we’re on our own in this,” said Michael Marcantonio, of Eaton’s Neck. “If we lose this case it will devastate our community.”

State Sens. 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, and the other
municipalities and school districts battling similar disputes with the utility. 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.

They put the promise in black and white in submissions to the IRS that taxes would not be affected for the host communities — us.”
– John Gross

Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer encouraged residents to reach out to their state
assemblyman and encourage them to push the legislation forward before this year’s session ends June 30.

“We are strenuously working on this from multiple arenas in both the court of law but also the legislation that’s been proposed,” Banzer said. “I want to thank those of you that are advocating for this legislation, as again, we want to cover this on as many fronts as possible.”

A spokesperson for state Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) said Raia had reached out to his fellow Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) to see if he would review the legislation and introduce it as a member of the house’s majority party. If not, Raia would sponsor it.

If LIPA were to win its lawsuit for a 90 percent reduction of taxes against the Town of Huntington, Gross said Northport homeowners whose homes have an assessed value of $3,700 could see their school taxes jump by as much as 81 percent over the next nine years.

Banzer said the district still remains open to negotiation of a settlement.

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.”