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Sloma, after re-election as Niagara IDA chairman, says he’s probably in ‘my last year to do this’

WHEATFIELD – Henry M. Sloma, who was re-elected chairman of the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency last week, said it probably won’t happen again.

“I’m going to guess this is my last year to do this,” Sloma told his colleagues. “I have some health issues, and I’m going to have to take care of them sometime down the line. They’re under control for now.”

Sloma, 72, who said he preferred not to discuss the nature of his health problems, is also serving as vice chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, and did not mention what he might do regarding that seat. He runs most NFTA meetings in the absence of Chairman Howard A. Zemsky.

Sloma has been IDA chairman most of the time since the Niagara County Legislature placed him on the IDA board in April 2005. His first stint as chairman began in August 2005.

He resigned from the board in January 2013, citing a potential conflict of interest with a private business deal he was working on, but returned a year later and became chairman again in March 2014.

His unanimous re-election Wednesday came as the board also gave final approval to the latest step in the project perhaps most closely identified with Sloma: a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, for the coal-burning power plant in Somerset.

The board voted to transfer the revised tax break that it granted last month to the current owners of the plant, Upstate New York Power Producers, to the buyers of the facility, Riseling Power LLC, a New York City firm created by Bicent Power. Bicent is a subsidiary of Beowulf Energy, of New York City.

The power plant, originally built by New York State Electric & Gas Corp., was owned by AES Corp. when it first sought tax breaks in 2006.

The plant was, and remains, the largest single property taxpayer in the county, but its tax bill has steadily fallen from $17.3 million a decade ago to $5.12 million this year. The new deal for Riesling sets the tax tab at $4.62 million in 2017 and $4.12 million in 2018.

When Susan C. Langdon, IDA director of projects and finance, reported that no one showed up for a public hearing on the transfer March 3 in Somerset, Sloma recalled how things were in 2006.

“The first public hearing, there were 400 people, all opposed. We’ve whittled that down to zero, so we might be on the right track,” Sloma remarked. “The community understands the merits of helping this company. For the community, it’s been costly, and for the company, it’s been costly. … We’re hoping the company survives out there.”

Upstate New York Power Producers was a company created by the bondholders AES was unable to repay when the AES subsidiary that owned the plant went broke at the end of 2011 and had to sell the plant to them.

Also Wednesday, the IDA board reaffirmed its flexible policy on tax exemptions, which Sloma helped create in 2008. It allows the agency to negotiate individual benefits with applicants depending on project circumstances.

“We do some very creative things,” Sloma said, “and those terms and conditions are part of that policy.”