By Donna Deedy
On a sunny Sunday afternoon, more than 100 residents of all ages, including many families with young children and pets, attended another public rally against Long Island Power Authority. At one point, their chant filled Cow Harbor Park in Northport village where they gathered April 7.
“Stop LIPA now,” they repeated in protest.
The power authority, a quasi-governmental state agency, is suing the Town of Huntington to reduce its $82 million property tax burden by 90 percent. LIPA, since the state’s public bailout of LILCO, and its failed Shoreham nuclear power plant project, has been paying the property taxes for power stations now owned by National Grid.
Protest organizer Paul Darrigo formed a Facebook advocacy group called Concerned Taxpayers Against LIPA in mid-March, whose membership now totals more than 3,000 people. His group is concerned that if LIPA is successful it would devastate the Northport-East Northport school district, which currently receives $54 million annually from LIPA.
Northport village residents Kathleen and James Wansor have two very young children and attended the rally to learn more about the situation. Funding for education is important to the young family.
“It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t seem fair for us to all of a sudden see increases in our taxes,” Wansor said.
Darrigo’s group is also reaching out to people across Long Island.
“I want to coordinate our efforts with the residents of Island Park, whose school district is also under assault due to LIPA’s tax certiorari filed in Nassau County,” he said. “The objective is to communicate with LIPA and our elected officials with a consistent message and reiterate a ‘strength in numbers’ mantra.”
New York State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) was among the elected officials who addressed the Northport crowd. He’s currently calling for LIPA reforms.
“LIPA is a runaway authority that is not serving the public’s interest with their frivolous lawsuit. As I’ve said to LIPA, LIPA should uphold the promise that was made to my constituents and that the tax certiorari challenge should be dropped. Anything short of that would be detrimental to the vitality of the communities that I serve and would have a direct impact on their ability to provide indispensable programs and services.”
“The objective is to communicate with LIPA and our elected officials with a consistent message and reiterate a ‘strength in numbers’ mantra.”
— Paul Darrigo
But elected officials on different levels of government lack a firm position on the issue. Both County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) offered similar public comments on the LIPA tax lawsuit against Huntington.
“While we do not comment on pending litigation, we are monitoring the situation closely,” said Jordan Levine, deputy communications director for energy and the environment with the office of the governor. “It is our hope that LIPA and the Town of Huntington can reach a mutually beneficial agreement that is fair and beneficial to all parties.”
Northport Village Deputy Mayor Tom Kehoe is particularly critical of the state’s position.
“The governor better wake up and jump in on this,” he said. “People are mad.”