Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Carl J. Calabrese tried Monday to calm concern about the future of the town's biggest taxpayer, Niagara Mohawk's Huntley Steam Station, and its efforts to get out from under a $14.4 million property tax bill.
"We are prepared to go to court" to fight the plant's attempts to get its $235.7 million assessment reduced, Calabrese told John Crangle, head of the town's Democratic Committee.
Niagara Mohawk is trying to win a 40 percent reduction in its assessment. That assessment is nearly a third of the town's industrial tax base.
Asked by Crangle what plans the town has if Niagara Mohawk's assessment is cut, Calabrese painted a bright picture of the town's industrial tax base.
American Axle, Du Pont, Dunlop and Praxair -- some of the town's biggest industries -- are doing well, he said.
"They are growing and prospering," Calabrese, a Republican, told Crangle. "We are blessed."
He said a court date to hear the assessment challenge has not yet been set, but added that the town will automatically appeal if the initial ruling is not favorable. He said the fight is likely to remain in the courts a long time.
The Huntley Steam Station is causing considerable concern. In addition to trying to get the plant's assessment reduced, Niagara Mohawk announced last fall it plans to sell all of its coal-burning and oil-powered generating plants including those in the town and Dunkirk.
The utility hopes to start the auction process this spring, pending final approval from state and federal regulatory agencies.
What that means for the town is uncertain.
At worst, Niagara Mohawk would be unable to find a buyer for Huntley and decide to shutter and raze the facility.
This would cause the plant's assessed value and tax bill to plummet.
Calabrese has said he expects the plant to attract a new utility, but a new owner also is likely to challenge the plant's assessment.
Crangle said many residents are worried about the tax fallout if Huntley is sold or wins its tax appeal.
He said he is concerned that town officials seldom discuss the issue in public, heightening fears.
He said he also is worried that the town hasn't been attracting new industries to offset the possible loss of the plant.
"People are very concerned," he said. "(Huntley) is a big part of the tax base."
In other action, the Town Board lauded Councilman Bill Miller for serving 25 years on the board.
Miller was given a cake and thanks from his board colleagues.
Calabrese even produced a bottle of champagne in the council chambers but said it would have to be sampled later -- and not in Town Hall.