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Island Park residents protest as LIPA seeks reduction in its property tax bill

Protesters gather on a rainy Sunday outside the

Protesters gather on a rainy Sunday outside the E.F. Barrett Power Plant in Island Park to rally against LIPA's efforts to reduce its property tax bill on the power plant. Credit: Johnny Milano

Around 30 Island Park residents braved a rainy Sunday morning to protest in front of the E.F. Barrett Power Plant against the Long Island Power Authority's efforts to reduce its property tax bill on the aging facility.

The utility has grieved its property taxes on four of its Long Island power plants, arguing that their assessed values are inflated, especially as changes in energy consumption have required the plants to produce less and less power.

But protesters said Sunday that a cut to LIPA's tax bill on the Island Park plant would be devastating to the local school district, as LIPA tax payments make up about half of the district's annual tax revenue, and the loss of that revenue could mean higher tax bills for district residents.

"We're a blue-collar community," said Jo-Ellen Sarnelli, treasurer of the Island Park Civic Association, which organized the protest. The sought-after tax cut "will bankrupt this community," she said.

A LIPA spokesman declined to comment on the protest, citing ongoing litigation on the issue.

The nonprofit utility grieved its taxes on the plants in Island Park, Northport, Port Jefferson and Glenwood Landing in 2010.

The emergence of alternative energy sources and energy-efficient appliances has cut demand for the power produced by the plants, which were built from 1956 to 1977, according to a LIPA report released this year.

Barrett  operated at 54 percent of its capacity in 1999, but only at 38 percent of capacity in 2017, the report shows. In that time, the plant's tax bill rose from $24 million to $42.5 million.

Protesters, however, dismissed the idea that the plant is overtaxed.

"They're still insanely valuable," Island Park Civic member Richard Schurin said of the old plants, saying the cost and bureaucratic challenge of building new power plants in the region is prohibitive.

In December, LIPA reached a settlement with the Town of Brookhaven that will see its property tax bill on the Port Jefferson plant fall by millions of dollars annually.

LIPA and the Town of Huntington went to trial earlier this year over the utility's effort to lower its tax bill on the Northport plant. The court adjourned the case until late July, the spokesman said.

LIPA and Nassau County are in ongoing negotiations over the tax bill on the Island Park plant, the spokesman said. LIPA has argued that a fair property tax bill for the plant would be $1.6 million, according to the report.

The protest Sunday attracted the support of some local officials as well.

Island Park Village Mayor Michael McGinty said the tax reduction that LIPA is seeking would increase the property tax bill of the average home in the Island Park School District by around 15 percent. The change would have a "deleterious impact" on the community, he said.

Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony D'Esposito, whose district includes Island Park, echoed those concerns.

"What's going on with LIPA is going to have a devastating effect on our school district," he said. "They deserve to really cover their fair share."

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