AES Corp. announced Tuesday it has filed a lawsuit against Somerset, challenging the town's $470 million assessment of the company's Lake Road power plant.
The coal-burning plant is by far the largest property-tax payer in Niagara County, with a combined town, county and school tax bill this year of $13.4 million. AES pays 67 percent of the Barker Central School tax levy, 82 percent of the town tax levy and about 6 percent of the county's property tax revenues.
Lawsuits over the plant's assessment have been an almost annual event. This year, Somerset increased the assessment to $470 million from $400 million, while AES continues to seek a payment in lieu of taxes arrangement. The town and the school district have refused to go along with such a deal.
AES Vice President Karen Pavlock said the Board of Assessment Review rejected a grievance last month, leading to the lawsuit. The company had listed $100 million as the assessment it requested but only because it had to propose some figure.
"I don't want you to think that's really what we wanted," she said. "What we'd really like is a PILOT agreement. ... Whatever the (assessment) number is doesn't solve the problem because we're so big a part of the tax base. They just adjust the tax rate accordingly."
In a settlement of last year's lawsuit, in which the $400 million value was set, State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. called on the town and the company to work out a PILOT deal with the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.
But the IDA said it didn't want to take any action the local governments opposed. County Manager Gregory D. Lewis, IDA Executive Director Samuel M. Ferraro and County Legislature Chairman William L. Ross all said Tuesday the county's position has not changed.
However, Ross said he expects to attend a meeting next month with AES Somerset President Kevin Pierce and State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-North Tonawanda.
"I've left the door open," said Ross.
Somerset Supervisor Herbert Downs and the town assessors were unavailable to comment.