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Huntington leaders protest LIPA tax suit

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank P. Petrone, right, and

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank P. Petrone, right, and Councilman Mark Cuthbertson hold a news conference to announce efforts to fight the Long Island Power Authority's challenge of the assessment on the Northport Power Plant in Northport. (Jan. 5, 2011) Credit: Joel Cairo

Using the Northport power plant as a backdrop, local government leaders, school district officials and community and civic leaders from Huntington staged a rally to announce a comprehensive campaign to fight a suit filed in October by the Long Island Power Authority challenging the assessment on the power plant.

Town Supervisor Frank Petrone and town board member Mark Cuthbertson announced a multipronged plan to fight the lawsuit, including a website (stoplipataxhike.com) to educate residents about the effects of a successful LIPA property tax challenge, distribution of "Stop The LIPA Tax Hike" lawn signs, and a Feb. 1 bus trip to Albany to lobby the governor and state lawmakers.

"Who has the interest of the taxpayer here?" Petrone said. "We want to bring LIPA to the table, but not one in the courtroom. How do you discuss things when you have legal proceedings hanging over you?"

LIPA filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court Oct. 15 against the towns of Brookhaven and Huntington, arguing its power plants there are incorrectly assessed.

Michael Hervey, LIPA's chief operating officer, said in an e-mail Wednesday that LIPA's customers pay more than a half-billion dollars in taxes per year, which equates to about 14.7 percent of their total LIPA bill.

"LIPA is a not-for-profit state authority that is solely funded by ratepayers and has no shareholders to turn to ease the burden of these taxes," Hervey said in the e-mail. "LIPA customers pay over $65 million per year in taxes at the Northport plant, which has increased over 20 percent over the last 5 years. LIPA believes these taxes are not in line with the value of the generating facility, and like any other fiscally responsible utility we are seeking a fair and reasonable assessment of taxes which will ultimately benefit all of LIPA's 1.1 million customers."

Petrone said he sent a letter to the LIPA board last week asking that they withdraw the suit.

Town officials said if the reassessment goes through Huntington residents would experience tax increases of up to 10 percent. The Northport-East Northport school and library districts would face a 50 percent tax increase, offcials said.

Stephen Waldenburg, Northport-East Northport school board president, said the impact of a reassessment of the power plant would be devastating for the community.

"It's a quarter or a third of our revenue," Waldenburg said. "We get low state aid already, so the loss of that income, the amount that would be thrown back on homeowners to make up for, is unimaginable. You would have to gut the schools, literally gut them."

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