Taking back the power

Island Park, Northport residents team up to protest LIPA tax case

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As the Long Island Power Authority continues to seek a reduction in its property-tax payments on four National Grid-operated power plants — including the E.F. Barrett Generation Station — Island Park residents met with a Northport-based coalition on April 11 to protest the efforts, which would significantly raise taxes in the communities.

Since 2010, LIPA has sought to decrease its tax payments at its power plant in Island Park and at others in Northport, Glenwood Landing and Port Jefferson. LIPA officials have argued that the plants are over-assessed by at least 90 percent, and are challenging Nassau County, the Town of Brookhaven, the Town of Huntington and the Village of Port Jefferson in court to reduce the plants’ values.

An activist Facebook group called Concerned Taxpayers Against LIPA staged a protest at LIPA headquarters in Uniondale last month, before LIPA’s court case began against Northport. The trial is taking place in the Supreme Court in Riverhead, and will continue until April 25. The protests caught the attention of Island Park resident Richard Schurin, an attorney, who invited the coalition’s leader, Paul Darrigo, of Northport, to the Island Park Civic Association’s meeting to discuss a grass-roots approach to combating LIPA’s campaign.

“He went over a lot of the steps that his group has taken to bring attention to this issue and what they will take in the future,” Schurin said of Darrigo. “It was agreed that Island Park would coordinate and contribute to his cause and join him. We have been planning a few things.”

Darrigo started Concerned Taxpayers Against LIPA, which now has more than 3,500 members from all areas that would be impacted if LIPA wins. LIPA Communications Director Sid Nathan acknowledged a request for comment about the protests, but did not offer a statement on behalf of the company at press time.

LIPA currently pays $196 million in property taxes on the plants — $42.6 million for the Island Park plant, according to reports by the utility. By comparison, LIPA argues, the tax payments on 28 of its other Long Island power plants add up to $16 million.

In response to LIPA’s effort, several municipalities and school districts potentially affected by the grievances, including the Island Park School District, joined in a lawsuit seeking an injunction that would prevent LIPA from reducing its property taxes on the grounds that a written and verbal agreement had been made among then Gov. George Pataki, members of the LIPA board and the taxing entities that the utility would not grieve its taxes on the plants when it took over Long Island Lighting Company in 1998. LIPA argued, however, that no such agreement existed.

Schurin told about 60 community members gathered at the Island Park Library for a civic association meeting that a settlement would bring harsh consequences for Island Park taxpayers. Darrigo said it was important for the communities to band together and push elected officials to step up and help residents avoid having the burden fall on them.

“We shared ideas and ways that we can together make sure that our elected officials know how angry we are and how we’re not going to go away quietly,” he said. “We talked about spots to hold a protest, writing letters and the most effective ways to become activists because we feel very under-represented by county government and by many in Albany.”

Last August, a Suffolk County judge ruled against the Northport-East Northport and Port Jefferson school districts after they sought injunctions to stop LIPA from reducing its property taxes on its power plants in their districts. The Island Park School District was also a plaintiff in the injunction, with officials noting that residents’ taxes could increase drastically.

Superintendent Dr. Rosmarie Bovino did not respond to a request for comment about an update on the injunction and the steps school officials are taking to fight LIPA. In February, Bovino said that one of the reasons she opposed the Arlington, Va.-based AvalonBay Communities’ request for a payment in lieu of taxes agreement, or PILOT, from the Town of Hempstead Industrial Development Agency to build a $90 million, 172-unit apartment complex in Harbor Isle was because she feared taxpayers could see a 25 percent increase in taxes if LIPA wins its case.

In the decision against Northport-East Northport and Port Jefferson, Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Emerson ruled that the 1998 agreement did not exist.

“If, and when, [Emerson] issues a similar decision, Island Park’s case will also be over, unless the district files an appeal,” the Island Park School District announced in a statement posted on its website in August. “The Board of Education and the superintendent are reviewing the decision with counsel and will evaluate the pros and cons of bringing an appeal once the judge issues a decision in our case.”

As the Northport case plays out in court, residents there have joined forces with the Island Park community to ensure that their voices are heard. “Now Island Park and Northport are going to work together to exert political protest,” Darrigo said. “We’ll make sure our protests are noisier, our letters and social media posts are more frequent and we’ll try to align with other communities as well.”

Peter Belfiore contributed to this story.