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Tonawanda sees some state tax help with closing of Huntley

Many people agree that it is time to end coal-burning power plants in order to reduce pollution, but that also carries a stiff financial burden for some local taxpayers. Coal plants pay millions of dollars in taxes.

So a $30 million fund included in the state budget to help communities hit hard by the closure of power plants is welcome news in the Town of Tonawanda, where the closing of the Huntley plant on River Road will mean the loss of $6 million in local tax revenues.

The town and the Kenmore-Tonawanda school district along with citizen groups lobbied for a year for the fund.

And Ken-Ton’s loss of $3 million in revenues from NRG Energy, the owner the Huntley plant, was singled out as recently as Tuesday during a district meeting.

“It’s actually very gratifying to see that our efforts have yielded benefits to our community,” said Superintendent Dawn F. Mirand. “It’s very exciting and I applaud Assemblyman Schimminger for his efforts.”

Assemblyman Robin Schimminger’s bill builds on the $19 million Fossil Fuel Plant Closure Fund established last year by the State Legislature, which “laid the groundwork for what we have now,” he said.

Municipalities are eligible for aid for no more than five years, may receive up to 80 percent of lost revenue in the first year and the facility must close on or after June 25, 2015.

Schimminger said he pushed for a $50 million fund with a 10-year limit but had to settle for the five-year limit.

“In the words of Mick Jagger, you can’t always get what you want,” the Kenmore Democrat said. “But at least we got a whole lot of what we wanted.”

The bill also lays out a pathway for municipalities to receive money, whereas last year it was “ambiguous and cumbersome as to how localities would go about getting the dollars,” Schimminger said.

Local officials must prove that the electricity-generating station has ceased operation and confirm the loss of property tax revenue through the state Office of Real Property Services.

“There is an authentication process,” he said.

The bill could also benefit Dunkirk, where the city, school district and Chautauqua County could see a nearly $7 million loss in revenue from the mothballing of another plant also owned by NRG.

“The Senate ensured that the final budget language was changed so that mothballed plants such as NRG would qualify, and the county would be added as a recipient of funds,” State Sen. Catharine Young said in a statement.

Another change by the Senate makes the bill “fuel-neutral,” which means the FitzPatrick nuclear power plant in Central New York, which may close, could be eligible.

The inclusion of nuclear power plants added legislative allies in the State Senate, Schimminger said.

Even with the state aid, the budget outlook for Tonawanda and Ken-Ton is not rosy.

The state money is a “transition fund” that will help in the short term, Mirand said.

“It’s really not a sustainable revenue,” he said. “It’s to help lessen the immediate blow of losing so much money at one time. We’re going to have to ease into that.”

In addition, some of the money from this year’s PILOT at Huntley may have to be repaid.

The 100 acres of waterfront land and the plant that opened in 1916 are still owned by NRG, which means the company still has some tax obligation.

Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph H. Emminger said he expects NRG will grieve the real property assessment but hopes to reach a negotiated settlement by May 24, or July 1 at the latest.

“Whatever that number is, it’s going to be a greatly reduced number from the $2.2 million they’re paying,” he said of the plant’s owner. “It’s going to be a greatly reduced assessment number, and it’s going to be painful. The relief is only going to last for a couple years.”

He also credited a citizen coalition led by the Kenmore Teachers Association, the WNY Area Labor Federation and Clean Air Coalition for launching letter-writing campaigns and making their voices heard by state officials.