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Nassau lawmakers vote to allow PSEG Long Island to make partial property tax payments

Norma Gonsalves, presiding officer of the Nassau County

Norma Gonsalves, presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, questions county officials prior to a vote on a property tax cap on property owned by LIPA, during a meeting of the legislature in Mineola on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

The Nassau Legislature unanimously approved a measure Wednesday allowing PSEG Long Island to pay nearly $1.4 million less in property taxes than it was initially billed, ending a monthlong dispute between the utility and area municipalities.

The GOP-controlled legislature voted to allow the county treasurer to accept a one-time reduced tax payment from PSEG of $28.6 million. The county is exploring options to collect the remaining amount, including litigation, officials said.

Last month, tax receivers from the towns of Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay rejected PSEG's tax payments because the utility sent in $1.37 million less than the roughly $30 million it had been billed. County law prohibits partial payments of property taxes.

LIPA, which still owns power facilities operated by PSEG, had directed the utility to limit tax-bill increases to 2 percent because its lawyers said the state-approved LIPA Reform Act of 2013 caps tax hikes to that percentage annually on company properties.

When PSEG did not return the roughly $30 million full payment, along with a 2 percent penalty fee by Aug. 31, the towns returned the partial payment to the utility as the county treasurer is solely responsible for collecting unpaid taxes after that date.

County Treasurer Beaumont Jefferson said Wednesday that accepting the partial payment would allow the county to immediately collect the $28.6 million while retaining "all available legal remedies" to get the unpaid balance.

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said it would be "ludicrous" to allow the dispute to hold up collection of the $28.6 million.

But she encouraged lawmakers and school district officials to petition the state to change the "ill-conceived" LIPA Reform Act and force PSEG to make complete payment in the future.PSEG Long Island spokesman Jeffrey Weir said the Act "capped the amount LIPA may lawfully pay to no more than 2 percent more than the amount paid the previous year and we are abiding by that law."

Lawmakers separately approved school tax warrants, which set the rates for school tax bills, with LIPA-owned properties removed from the tax rolls. The utility will now make payments to the county in lieu of taxes. By law, town tax receivers must begin mailing tax warrants by Thursday.

Also Wednesday, the legislature's Rules Committee approved a measure allowing "critical" county facilities to purchase GPS-enabled panic alarms from the Nassau Police Department.

The sites, which include religious institutions, universities and malls, would also use a new smartphone app that allows them to communicate directly with the police department's Communications Bureau, which operates its 911 system.

Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said the technology would cut the typical 8-10 minute police response times in half during an emergency. The county is providing the technology to Nassau schools at no cost.

Nearly two years ago, Nassau announced a $3.2 million plan to outfit schools with panic alarms, but the program stalled because of a contractual dispute with a vendor and a tepid response from some school districts.

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