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Legislators Pave Way For New Nuke Tax Pact

OSWEGO, NY – At a brief meeting Tuesday afternoon, the Oswego County Legislature approved overriding the state-mandated two-percent tax levy limit for 2012.

Legislator Art Ospelt called the move an insurance policy for the county in case something else changes (regarding the county’s proposed 2012 budget).

“In the meantime, we are under the tax cap, but we might not be if they change the rules on us though,” he said. “That’s what the protection is for.”

According to County Administrator Phil Church, the county needs the ability to override the cap in case the state decides to change the way it computes payments in lieu of taxes agreements for the county’s three nuclear plants.

Legislator Mike Kunzwiler pointed out that others have also done this, for the same reasons.

“It is prudent that we, as leaders, take this action and protect the taxpayers just in case. I believe this is very important for us today, to protect the taxpayers to do this,” he said. “We are well below the tax cap.”

Legislator Fred Beardsley agreed it was important.

“It is important that the public understands that this legislature in its entirety has no problem with the concept of a tax cap. As Mr. Kunzwiler just mentioned, we are well below the two percent. Our leaders on the state level, we are behind them on the concept of this program,” he said. “Unfortunately when this thing was put together there are a couple of rules in there that are a little vague pertaining to especially the situation in Oswego County the fact that we have three nuclear plants. So once again we are behind the concept of this. But there is some language in there … this is really protection to see that the Oswego County taxpayer doesn’t get hurt by this in the future.”

“The bottom line is the public needs to understand this isn’t a tool for us to raise taxes. This is almost the opposite,” Legislator Jim Karasek added. “It’s protection so the Oswego County taxpayers don’t get hurt by this in the future. I think that is an important message to get out.”

“This should alleviate any chance of the state, in any way at all, penalizing the county in some sort of future dealings,” Legislature Chairman Barry Leemann pointed out. “We are going to stay within the tax cap.”

Legislators also approved a resolution adopting Local Law No. 5 of 2011.

It provides for the creation of the office of the Oswego County Code Enforcement Officer regarding the administration and enforcement of the New York State Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code and New York State Energy Conservation Code for all buildings and facilities owned by Oswego County.

Without this position, the state would conduct the inspections at a cost to the county of $60,000 or more a year, Legislator Ospelt pointed out.

“We’ve got people in-house that can do this. So we’re looking at this change to save ourselves some money,” he said.

It will cost about $10,000 or less for the county to get this position up and running.

Legislator Doug Malone said he was told that this would not cost the county any money.

“Now, you’re telling me today it is going cost $10,000 to do this?” he asked. “I asked the question a week or two ago and I was told zero. I’m going to support it; but, I was told zero. Zero is zero.”

“I don’t know what you were told in your caucus but I know on our side we were told we’d have that money to pay,” Ospelt said. “It’s still a net savings for the taxpayers of $50,000. I’m sorry if you got mislead on that.”

The legislators adopted Local Law No. 3 of 2011: Entitled “A local law granting an exemption from taxation special ad valorem levies and special assessments as provided for under real property tax law 485 and 490 regarding Nine Mile Point units 1 and 2 as nuclear powered electric generating facilities.”

“This resolution will create the exemption that will allow us to present the nuclear tax agreements and changes the status so that we can go ahead,” Legislator Jack Proud said.

A public hearing on the tentative tax agreement is set for 2 p.m. Dec. 15 in the Legislature Chambers.

The new agreement with the nuclear plants should lower the tax levy by an additional $10 million, Church said.

Oswego resident Mike Goldych was the lone speaker at the public hearing prior to the vote.

He pointed out that it has been reported that the values of the plants under the agreement would be equivalent to the plants being on the tax rolls. He wanted to know what (assessment) figure the county was using for the deal.

It was based on the current assessment, Church noted.

“If I were negotiating I would require Constellation, and Entergy, to reopen that training center (located near the nuclear plants). It could be done somewhere; there are a number of vacant buildings in the area. If we could have that education Center somewhere; all the children in Oswego County, virtually every elementary child in Oswego County visited that training center during their tenure in the elementary schools. Many of the high school classes went there. The companies are shooting themselves in the head by not restoring it,” Goldych said. “It was a tourism attraction, also. That is something I hope Constellation would think about.”

It has been discussed. But there are no plans to do it right now, said Constellation spokesperson Jill Lyon.

“Because of the security issues, it would have to be somewhere off site. It couldn’t be in the old location. We wouldn’t be able to reopen it in the existing structure,” she said. “It is something we would be open to further discussion on.”