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Legislature included on wind farm panel

The Cattaraugus County Legislature will be represented on a panel that will work with town and school delegates to set up a tax-exemption policy for the Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency's wind farm projects.

A blanket state tax exemption for wind farms and other alternative energy systems was lifted in the county by the Legislature in 2008 following a lengthy debate. The action opened the door to tax collection by local authorities but also means wind developers will seek the IDA's assistance to obtain financing and tax breaks.

Host towns entertaining wind projects were critical of the county's action and expressed fears the IDA will negotiate wind farm deals and take a share of town revenues. Wednesday, some lawmakers recalled those arguments during the legislative session, stating opposition to the county's involvement and unsuccessfully tried to have the measure sent back to committee.

William E. Sprague, D-Yorkshire, led the opposition and said, "You are usurping the communities and towns from majority vote."

County Attorney Dennis Tobolski said the project developer negotiates a host benefit package separately with the town but signs an agreement with the IDA to make payment-in-lieu-of-taxes to the towns, schools and county in place of the lost tax revenue and the committee will decide the formula.

"If the county decides not to have a seat at the table, the committee will develop a policy without county input," Tobolski said.

In a 15-6 vote, a resolution was then passed authorizing three county representatives to join a panel with three school board and three town board appointees, and design a wind energy project tax-exemption policy.

The IDA method of selecting a panel to design the policy is being followed statewide and was named an IDA Best Practices Model. The IDA's other tax-exemption policies govern terms of 10-year PILOT agreements for industrial projects and 15-year PILOT agreements for tourism-related businesses, for example.

In other action, the lawmakers approved two local taxing measures. Unanimous consent was given to seek the State Legislature's renewal -- from next Dec. 1 through Nov. 30, 2011 -- of a 1 percent county sales tax law that generated more than $8 million in county revenue in 2008. Also, lawmakers voted, 18-3, to approve a request for home-rule approval by the State Legislature for a new mortgage recording tax of 25 cents per $100.

Norman L. Marsh, R-Little Valley, cast the only no vote against contributing $50,000 of the county's Seneca Casino revenues for the new Challenger Learning Center, a space-theme educational concession being built at St. Bonaventure University with the help of several local businesses.

Marsh said the money would be better spent on business retention and jobs, but other lawmakers answered that much of the $2,250,000 cost is being raised by private industry.

Marsh also cast the only no vote in opposition to a resolution that bypassed committee discussion and was introduced and amended Wednesday by Jim Snyder, R-Olean. The measure, passed 20-1, urges the state to settle long-standing disagreements with the Seneca Nation of Indians to establish an intersection on Seneca Nation lands to connect I-86 and a new Route 219 freeway.

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