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DEMOCRATS ASK PANEL TO STUDY IMPACT OF LOSS OF STEAM STATION

Town of Tonawanda Democrats Tuesday called on the Town Board to set up a commission to assess the impact if the town's biggest taxpayer, the Huntley Steam Station, is sold or wins a legal battle for a big assessment cut.

"We need to investigate the issue," said John Crangle, chairman of the town's Democratic Committee. "We want to look at serious numbers."

Crangle accused the Town Board of glossing over the potential impact of the loss of the plant, which is assessed at $235.7 million -- about 12 percent of the town's entire tax base and nearly a third of its non-homestead sector.

"This affects everyone," he said. "I've been to every meeting but one since January, and I've never heard anything from them about it."

He said the panel should include representatives of the all-GOP Town Board, county, state and federal lawmakers representing the town -- all Democrats -- experts and community residents.

The panel would track the Huntley issue and prepare for any possible tax shortfalls, he said.

Supervisor Carl J. Calabrese calls the idea "premature."

"There may come a day when those questions need to be discussed," Calabrese said.

"But a whole lot of steps need to happen first."

He denied that the Town Board has been purposely mute on Niagara Niagara Mohawk's fight to cut its assessment.

"No board should discuss pending litigation," he said.

Anxiety has been increasing since Niagara Mohawk announced plans to sell the Huntley Station, along with the rest of its coal-burning and oil-powered generating plants, as part of a restructuring.

Niagara Mohawk wants to start the auction process this spring, pending final regulatory approval.

The utility also is seeking a 40 percent cut in its assessment, hoping to bring down its $14.4 million annual property-tax bill.

The financial impact from either a sale or tax cut is unclear.

At worst, Niagara Mohawk would be unable to sell the plant and decide to raze it. If that happened, the plant's tax contribution would be minimal.

In both cases, the issues will likely be tangled in litigation for years, Calabrese said. Setting up a commission now to study the issue would be of little use until the courts have acted, he said.

Earlier this month, the head of the Sweet Home-Tonawanda-Kenmore Taxpayers Association also called for the formation of a group to track the Huntley issue and prepare contingency plans. Calabrese also termed that idea premature.

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