The Huntington Town Board meets at 6 p.m. Monday for a public hearing on the proposed settlement of the Northport Power Plant tax appeal case, and in the run-up to the event the organizational firepower on social media seems to be on the side of settling even as politicians remain divided.
Part of that is due to Doug Roberts, a Northport native who lived in San Francisco, New York City and the North Fork before returning home last summer with his wife and their daughter, a rising first-grader. Roberts started a Facebook page called “Northport-East Northport Parents for Preserving Our Schools” that’s generally devoted to arguing that the town board should accept the settlement negotiated by lawyers for the town and the Northport-East Northport school district and Supervisor Chad Lupinacci, and already approved by the school district.
It’s also trying to get people to speak out in favor of the settlement at Monday night’s public hearing, and another planned for next month, if it comes to that.
“I was sort of lurking on the Concerned Taxpayers Against LIPA Facebook page since I came back, reading and listening,” Roberts told The Point, “and now I’m just trying to be a different voice. I talk to a lot of parents who agree with me that the settlement is the way to go, but they don’t want to get into internet wars and get flamed. I don’t mind, because I honestly believe if we don’t settle and the judge hands down a decision, it could destroy the school district and the community.”
Roberts, 45, has a background in marketing and now runs a national network of school superintendents. The Facebook page he lurked on, CTAL, which has about 5,000 members, has seen its major organizers, who came together to oppose LIPA’s original offer, mostly come out in favor of this version as the best possible outcome.
Under the plan, LIPA would see taxes on the Northport plant reduced from $86 million to $47 million annually over seven years, see that rate extended another five years if the plant is part of a further power supply agreement, and give the school district an additional $14.5 million over the seven years.
A court decision on the plant’s value, in the worst-case scenario, could see that $86 million immediately reduced by as much as 90% and leave the town owing LIPA as much as $850 million. The judge also could rule for the town, but the pressure from the judiciary to get the parties to a settlement makes that highly unlikely.
But opposition still exists. Last week, a mailer went out that demanded the town board “VOTE NO!” on the settlement. It argued that the plan is unfair to town and school district taxpayers, and that the threat of a huge tax refund is a scare tactic that will never come to pass. The mailer (with no indication as to its source) asks that residents come out to the Harry Chapin Stage at Heckscher Park “To tell the town board to vote ‘no’ on the proposed LIPA settlement.”
And then there is Eugene Cook, the Independence Party-registered town board member with Republican leanings who for a decade has been the leading voice against settling.
Cook has pushed the town to buy the plant via eminent domain, and argued that a 1997 letter from LIPA promising never to challenge the taxes still has sway (though a judge disagreed). Now, he argues in a lawsuit that LIPA and National Grid, the owner of the plant, are constrained by the fact that they’ve never followed the procedures necessary to file a tax appeal under Public Authorities Control Board rules.
“We’re getting shafted,” Cook told The Point Monday. “And I just thank God we have this hearing and one on Sept. 16 to let the people speak and make our case.”
It’s also an issue that transcends party lines, and in some political races, may be defining. Cook is said to want the Republican nomination for supervisor next year, and he and Lupinacci are the main proponents on each side of the issue.
And in the race for the 12th Assembly District, Democratic nominee Michael Marcantonio has been an effective firebrand against settlement. His Republican opponent, Keith Brown, who plans to both speak and listen at Monday night’s meeting held via Zoom and with in-person attendance, told The Point: “I’m comparing this settlement deal to the others LIPA has agreed to, weighing a potential verdict from Judge [Elizabeth Hazlitt] Emerson and I’m interested in limiting the amount of any tax increase. I’m frankly concerned about what any judgment that requires tax assessments of between $10,000 and $25,000 for every household in Huntington could do to the community.”