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Island Park residents confront LIPA, county officials on proposed Barrett settlement

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Three minutes each wasn’t nearly enough time for Island Park residents to express their frustrations with the recently proposed settlement between the Long Island Power Authority and Nassau County regarding the E.F. Barrett Generation Station.

Lincoln Orens Middle School’s Steven L. Foster Auditorium was crowded by more than 200 residents on Jan. 15, when County Executive Laura Curran, LIPA CEO Tom Falcone and other officials hosted a community meeting to address the latest development in the Barrett power plant saga.

LIPA began challenging the Barrett plant’s property assessment by the county, and attempting to reduce its taxes, in 2010. It has also challenged its taxes on three other Long Island plants.

The proposed settlement with the county will cut LIPA’s tax payments on the Barrett plant in half over seven years, while leaving room for an extension of the plant contracts at the lowest tax level for another four years. This will increase Island Park residents’ school taxes.

Included in the settlement is the creation of a Community Advisory Board for locals to join and discuss future uses of the site. The settlement also waives more than $250 million in tax refunds that the county would otherwise owe LIPA, according to utility officials.

“There is no ideal outcome for this problem that we’re facing,” Curran told residents. “The settlement is the best-possible, common-sense scenario to the facts that we are facing. It protects the Island Park schools from paying immediate, devastating tax hikes, and at the same time it protects all of Nassau County taxpayers, including Island Park residents, from a $250 million-plus liability.

“We have a court date staring us in the face,” Curran added, “and it’s a case that we at the county were not confident we would do well in.”

She also noted that the settlement includes the right to reopen the case in the future if the Barrett property value increases or LIPA strikes a better deal on a similar facility. “We can reopen this to get the benefit of that better settlement,” Curran said.

With the settlement, residents will see gradual tax increases beginning in the 2021-22 school year, an initial increase of roughly $24 per month. By the 2026-27 school year, taxpayers will see a $203-per- month increase. LIPA estimated these numbers based on the value of the average home in Island Park, about $397,000 value, and they are subject to change.

LIPA and county officials gave a 30-minute presentation on the settlement. Then, they allowed residents to ask questions and air their concerns at the two microphones at either side of the room.

The panel asked that each of the nearly 20 people who registered to speak keep their comments under three minutes, but that changed as residents brought their anger and dismay to LIPA and the county, as the officials stared down from their seats on the stage.

The first resident to speak was Richard Shurin, an Island Park resident who opposed LIPA’s tax case for a few years. He noted that the Island Park School District still has pending litigation with LIPA regarding its taxes on the power plant.

“There’s a social contract that you breach with the community,” he said. “All of us have put up with this polluting, disgusting power plant for all these years and we’ve suffered for that through our property value.

“The trade-off was we received extra money in taxes as a result of that. That was the understanding that existed for many years. You’ve broken that social contract with us.”

Shurin also argued that the county made a poor deal with LIPA and could have reaped more benefits that LIPA has given other communities in similar situations. “We got nothing,” he said.

Resident Stu Klein asked rhetorically, “How do we attract new residents to come into this community? How do we keep old residents, especially the seniors in our community, from leaving?”

Several other residents directed their anger toward Falcone, wondering how he felt adding taxes on residents. “It will be painful for the Island Park community, and I understand that, but this is not a situation where anybody comes out a winner,” Falcone responded. “We certainly don’t feel like winners tonight, and we know you don’t either.”

Later in the evening, Dr. Dean Bacigalupo, a trustee of the Island Park Public Library, told the panel and attendees that he sent more than 1,000 letters and phone calls over the past year, asking how the settlement will impact the library.

Falcone did not have the numbers, but said he would be “happy to look into it.”

“I have a group of seniors to go back to,” Bacigalupo said. “I’d like to be able to tell them the library door will be open, and we’ll continue to welcome them. I fear that I might have to tell them we may have to cut programs.”

Mike Scully, a real estate agent and past president of the Island Park Chamber of Commerce, noted that many people who buy houses in the community put less than 20 percent down. “It’s going to paralyze us,” he said, calling the deal reckless.

Island Park School Board of Education President Jack Vobis and Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito, of Island Park, shared their concerns, as well. Vobis questioned why LIPA’s tax assessment is not based on the revenue it generates from powering 300,000 homes.

“There needs to be some type of relief for the taxpayers of Island Park,” Vobis said. “Why don’t you pay us back for the litigation that still goes on, a lawsuit that more or less now means nothing?”

He implored elected officials to act. State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, Nassau County Legislator Denise Ford, Assemblywoman Melissa Miller and Island Park Mayor Michael McGinty all attended.

The night before, Miller introduced legislation to aid the Island Park community with state funding, according to a press release from her office.

“I’m very happy to introduce legislation that offers a fair solution to the Island Park School District and provides the district with the relief it so desperately needs,” Miller wrote. “It’s essential that we provide our children with the very best education we can offer them.”

For more information or to leave comments for LIPA, visit www.barrettsettlement.com.