With the Northport-East Northport School District hosting a public forum Wednesday evening on a proposed deal with LIPA to cut the taxes on the Northport Power Plant, it’s possible the decade-long saga is coming to an end.
After all, the proposal, to cut what the power authority pays on the plant from $86 million annually to $46 million over seven years, was negotiated and presented by the district’s attorney, John Gross, who assumed a hard-line stance for years but now agrees this is a deal the district needs to take before a judge’s ruling brings economic ruin.
Gross managed to buy the district years of full payments while the case dragged on, as well as a lesser reduction in plant taxes than what LIPA had previously offered. The deal also includes an extra $14.5 million in payments to the district over the seven years and a five-year extension of that final rate of $46 million annually if the plant is part of a new power-supply agreement in seven years.
This deal also erases the threat to all town property owners if LIPA won its tax challenge in court: a refund of $850 million to LIPA that would have cost taxpayers $10,000 to $25,000 each in their next bill.
But the school board does not have the final say. And the deal is pivotal to local State Assembly and Senate races in November and Huntington Town races in 2021.
In the open 12th District Assembly race, Democrat Michael Marcantonio has been a leading voice against settling the case, and has lobbied Albany to pass a bill he helped write that would bar LIPA’s bid for a clawback of past overpayments. His opponent, Republican Keith Brown, is arguing on his Facebook page that Albany needs to fund a fix, not local taxpayers.
In the 5th District Senate race, Democratic incumbent James Gaughran has worked on a dozen fronts to slow or stop a settlement that would create big tax increases for his voters. Gaughran said he's very skeptical about the deala dn doesn't think it needs to go forward during a pandemic but is going to review it. And his Republican opponent in that race, Ed Smyth, is a member of the Huntington Town Board who is allying himself with its most hardline deal opponent, Gene Cook.
That brings us to 2021, and the Town of Huntington. Cook is a registered Independence Party member who has fought any deal with LIPA and continues to advocate having the town seize the plant by eminent domain, a play that has gone nowhere.
Cook is also said to be considering a party registration change and a run as a Republican next year, hoping to win the nomination whether Republican incumbent Supervisor Chad Lupinacci walks away or not.
Lupinacci, who faces a lawsuit from an former aide claiming sexual harassment and assault when Lupinacci was an assemblyman, told The Point he plans to seek reelection in 2021. Lupinacci, who has denied the accusations, now supports the settlement, believing it is the best possible outcome for the town, but needs two more votes on the board.
At the moment he appears to lack Smyth or Cook, which leaves the board’s Democrats, Mark Cuthbertson and Joan Cergol, both of whom are frequently mentioned as potential supervisor candidates. Both have sided with Lupinacci and against Cook at times on issues involving the tax challenge but are thus far treading lightly on the settlement.
Lupinacci and others have said the topic is so fraught that he may need to win the vote 4-1 to win it at all, because no one will want to be blamed for moving the needle.
And it’s in that environment that Wednesday night’s school district public comment session on the settlement will take place.
Many of the politicians will look to follow public sentiment on the issue. Now they just have to find out what the public sentiment is.