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Power Authority rejection of AES brings call to cancel IDA tax break

As the New York Power Authority board of directors rejected AES Corp.'s bid for a clean-coal power plant Tuesday, Somerset-area residents redoubled their calls for the cancellation of the tax break the company received from the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.

For the second consecutive meeting, speakers from Somerset called on the Niagara County Legislature to pressure the IDA to rescind the tax break or oust the IDA board members, who serve at the Legislature's pleasure.

IDA Chairman Henry M. Sloma engineered a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes package for the county's largest property taxpayer on the theory, advanced by the company, that it would strengthen AES' bid for the clean-coal plant.

"Henry Sloma has handed the county a major revenue loss with no new jobs, no new construction and no benefit to the county," said Merrill Bender, former Barker Board of Education president. "It is time for Henry Sloma to resign and for the Legislature to replace him with a professional who will follow the law, follow IDA policies and procedures and rescind this proposed PILOT for AES Somerset's existing plant."

"Not only has the IDA acted inappropriately, callously and possible illegally, our county leaders have chosen to ignore the taxpayers and bow down to big business," charged Linda Duxbury of Newfane.

Jim Giegerich of Hartland charged: "They're an appointed board and not elected by us. They have voted to raise our taxes. The last time this happened, we sent the British running. You should do the same with the IDA."

Although the estimated revenue loss based on current tax rates is $24 million, the Town of Somerset has applied an annual inflation factor and issued its own estimate, which pushes the loss estimate to $95 million.

After overwhelming opposition at an Oct. 24 public hearing to a 25-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, deal for AES, Sloma negotiated a 12-year deal with AES that the IDA board approved three days later.

The Somerset residents are asserting that was illegal because there was no environmental review and no public hearing was held.

Asked if he could see the Legislature dismissing Sloma, Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, said, "That's not a decision to be made at this time. There's been no discussion of that at all."

Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said he wants the Legislature to have the meeting with the IDA that was canceled last week. Ross said he doesn't expect to be able to reschedule that until after Jan. 1.

"I want Mr. Sloma to have the opportunity to explain some of the allegations that were made," Virtuoso said.

"We need to know the answers to some questions," said Vice Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville. "I don't know what authority we have over [the IDA]. The statute gives the Legislature the power to appoint, but I think our authority ends at that point."

The Legislature has fired IDA board members in mid-term before, most recently in 2003. However, County Attorney Claude A. Joerg has said the Legislature can't veto actions taken by the IDA. He said he had no opinion on whether a second public hearing should have been held on the AES deal.

Barker School Superintendent Steven J. LaRock said the district is working on a lawsuit against the IDA that must be filed by late February to meet a 120-day deadline counted from the Oct. 27 vote.

LaRock said, "The [Barker Board of Education] passed a resolution [Monday] night authorizing the superintendent to file it when conditions warrant."
On other legal matters, the Legislature voted unanimously to sue the state by Dec. 31 over the recommendations of a commission that called for the ending of nursing home services at the county-owned Mount View Health Facility.

The county is hoping to collect $2.4 million in damages. That's how much it thought it could get by selling Mount View to Senior Associates of Amherst.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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