Public officials and angry residents rallied in heavy rain beneath the Northport power plant Monday to protest LIPA's decadelong challenge of the plant's $84 million annual property taxes and demand Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo intervene.
More than 100 residents and officials braved the afternoon rain with the power plant stacks as their backdrop while calling for LIPA to end tax challenges they said would "devastate" the Northport-East Northport school district and others like it across Long Island. It's one of a series of protests as the prospect of a court verdict nears.
"We're fighting back with everything we have," said Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci, who charged LIPA was "not negotiating" a settlement in good faith, and has made "no counter offers" to those of the town offering between $130 million and $200 million in savings over longer periods than LIPA's proposed nine-year settlement. A LIPA victory in the tax challenges would be "catastrophic," he said.
A senior LIPA official in response said, "Our goal remains putting an unsustainable situation back on a sustainable path for the local community and the rest of LIPA’s 1.1 million customers."
The protest comes as LIPA and the Huntington Town are scheduled to return to court next month in what is expected to be the last phase of a trial that seeks a substantial reduction in the assessed value of the plant. LIPA values the plant as low as $198 million, and has presented hundreds of pages of evidence and expert testimony to challenge the town's assessment of $3.4 billion. Mediation thus far has failed.
Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy said a successful tax challenge by LIPA would also impact county finances, because Suffolk would have to make LIPA whole for upward of $650 million in tax refunds in its favor for the year before it could seek to collect back taxes from Huntington. LIPA's tax challenge is "not a solution," said Kennedy, who also called for Cuomo to step in and resolve the matter. "It would only put us further at risk."
Lupinacci said his office has reached out to Cuomo to intervene in the matter but "he's not willing to meet with me." A spokesman for Cuomo's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Residents who are concerned taxes will skyrocket as a result of a loss in court or a settlement have been protesting for months about LIPA's actions, saying the utility will "devastate" their community and school district.
Paul Darrigo, a Northport resident who is leading a group called Concerned Citizens Against LIPA, last week released new calculations for the impact of a proposed settlement by LIPA that shows residents' taxes would increase considerably higher than the $15 a month LIPA estimates they would.
The group's calculations show a home with $3,700 of assessed value (with a market value of around $535,663) would see taxes jump $37 a month the current tax year, and each year increase an amount that would eventually rise to $63 by the last year of the settlement in 2026-27, including effects of inflation. By the last year of the settlement, these homeowners would be paying taxes that are $4,656 higher than they were in 2019.
Homes with $6,900 assessed value (with around $1 million market value) would see taxes this year jump by $69 a month, and increase by $118 a month by 2026-27, the group found. Their taxes would be $8,682 higher than they were in 2019, including inflation, Darrigo said.
Darrigo said he believes the group's activities are pressuring LIPA.
"The degree to which LIPA is lobbying against proposed legislation [to limit parts of the settlement] and the extent to which it has taken aggressive ad campaigns targeted to our community reflects how anxious they are about our movement," Darrigo said.
LIPA's settlement offer seeks to reduce taxes paid by the plant by 50 percent over nine years. Huntington Town said it has made counter offers that lengthen phase-in time, and also offer the utility savings, but the town says LIPA hasn't accepted the offers.