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LIPA names prominent tax-challenge lawyer Laureen Harris to its board of trustees

Laureen Harris, a prominent tax-challenge attorney, has been

Laureen Harris, a prominent tax-challenge attorney, has been named to the board of the Long Island Power Authority. Credit: Barry Sloan

The Long Island Power Authority has named Laureen Harris, a prominent tax-challenge attorney who heads a local developer’s group, to its board of trustees.

Harris, president of the Association for a Better Long Island, will replace Tom McAteer, an appointee of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo who left the board in December.

ABLI, which represents some of the island's largest developers, has been a powerful advocate for LIPA's decade-old strategy to challenge property taxes on power plants the authority believes are over-assessed. 

Harris, a noted tax-certiorari attorney, joins LIPA’s board as the authority is becoming increasingly aggressive, and successful, in its tax challenges of local power plants that are owned by National Grid.

In December, LIPA announced settlement of challenges in Nassau County over taxes it pays for the E.F. Barrett Power station in Island Park, and the Glenwood Landing property in Glenwood Landing, which no longer has a large power plant.

The settlement needs approval by the Nassau County Legislature. Island Park residents, who face tax increases of up to $200 a month by the last year of the settlement have been intensely critical of the agreement.

Brookhaven Town already has settled a tax case for the Port Jefferson power station.

Harris has been an attorney for more than 30 years and is the founding member and president of the Institute of Real Estate of Hofstra University. She also serves as Downstate chairman in Tax Certiorari and Condemnation for the New York State Bar Association.

Harris in an interview called this "a pivotal time" for LIPA given recent tax-challenge settlements and a continuing case with Huntington Town. 

"It's a sticky situation," she said. "It's emotional, it's hard to dissect. I have a good understanding of the subject. I get where people get confused. I look forward to demystifying and allaying fears." 

LIPA is awaiting a verdict in the largest of its multiple tax challenges — the $84 million it pays annually in taxes on the Northport power station. LIPA over a period of seven years wants to reduce by taxes on the plant by half, but residents and the town are fighting the reduction. A trial was held last year.

ABLI executive director Kyle Strober said Harris’ appointment “underscores our organization’s shared goals with the governor” of reduced energy costs and more sustainable, reliable energy. Harris “has the insight, expertise and commitment to help drive that agenda.”

Harris’ appointment is in stark contrast to that of Ali Mohammed, who was appointeed by the state Senate last year. When the Wall Street executive joined the LIPA trustees in July, he declared one of his “first priorities” was to “end LIPA’s practice of reckless tax-certiorari lawsuits against communities and school districts.”

LIPA “must immediately cease all litigation” relating to tax-challenge suits, he said, though he’s since been less vocal on the topic at LIPA board meetings.

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