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LIPA Lights Up Voter Forum 

Supervisor Frank Petrone and challenger Gene Cook sparred over the LIPA tax certiorari lawsuit during a Meet the Candidates night hosted Oct. 9 by five civic groups.

Could the last one out of Elwood Middle School please turn off the lights?

LIPA, how to best deal with the utility’s lawsuit against the town challenging its assessment and whether the “Stop The LIPA Tax Hike” party is a legitimate ballot line were the highlights of a marathon three-and-a-half hour long Meet the Candidates night at Elwood Middle School Oct. 9, hosted by the Greater Huntington Civic Group, Elwood Taxpayers Association and three other civic groups.

As the town stares down a tax certiorari lawsuit from LIPA which seeks to reduce the assessment of the Northport power plant by 90 percent, a current settlement offer would reduce the assessment by approximately 55 percent over a 10-year period. Democratic Supervisor Frank Petrone, running for reelection, said that’s still too much for the schools and the town to bear.

Do you really believe that if this even went to court and we were losing, our state delegation would not stand up and say, ‘Give them the same deal you’re giving them today?’ Of course they would,” Petrone said.

However, his challenger, Councilman Gene Cook, an Independence Party member running with Republican backing, accused the supervisor of using the LIPA issue as a “political ploy.” Cook said he created what Republican Councilman Mark Mayoka, also running for reelection, described as a “phony” Stop the LIPA Tax Hike ballot line. Republicans are currently trying to have the line thrown out by taking the issue to court.

Cook, Mayoka and running mate Josh Price urged the town to accept the current settlement proposal.

“Sometimes, there’s a bad decision and sometimes there’s a worse decision. From my understanding and sitting down and discussing it with [State Senators Carl Marcellino and John Flanagan], this is the best decision we can make, and nobody likes it,” Cook said.

Mayoka and Price pointedly blamed Petrone and Democratic Councilman Mark Cuthbertson, also running for reelection, for allowing the power plant to be over-assessed “year after year.” Price argued that the town is likely to lose the lawsuit based on existing case law. He urged the town to take its medicine and settle.

“If LIPA wins the lawsuit, it’s an approximately $200-million judgment against the Town of Huntington. Everyone in the town will feel it,” Price said. “Anyone who does research on this issue will see that across the country, when utilities find themselves in the situation LIPA is in now, they win these lawsuits.”

“To the extent we can fight this, we will fight this,” Mayoka said. “But we wouldn’t have to fight it if the assessments weren’t so outrageously increased and escalated over the past 20 years.”

However, Petrone shot back later that his opponents were wrong, and that LIPA officials reneged on a deal inked in part by former Governor George Pataki.

“We never changed the assessment in 20 years. We had an agreement… and that agreement, they reneged on and then filed another certiorari suit. We never increased that assessment,” Petrone said.

In 1997 Richard Kessel, then CEO of LILCO, which transferred the sale and distribution of electricity to LIPA, entered into a 15-year Power Supply Agreement with the Town of Huntington agreeing not to challenge the assessed value of the plant.

In October 2010, LIPA filed a tax certiorari law suit against the town asking for a 90-percent reduction of the Northport power plant’s $3 billion assessment.

Petrone also defended the integrity of the Stop the LIPA Tax Hike ballot line, and said Republicans were bitter.

“It’s sour milk because they didn’t think of it first,” Petrone said.

“We believe this is a critical issue… It should be in front of the voters and we should be talking about it with them,” Cuthbertson said. “But they’re on the wrong side of the issue.”

Petrone and Cuthbertson’s running mate, Tracey Edwards, disagreed with Mayoka and Price’s allegations that a Democratic administration purposely over-assessed the power plant, arguing that assessment laws favor Nassau County taxpayers.

“The power plant that is in Island Park will pay the same kind of assessment as residential and commercial, so they have a bigger benefit than the Northport-East Northport School District,” Edwards said. “Not only do we have to continue to fight for fairness, we have to continue to push to partner with the state delegation to change the law for the future.”


Town To LIPA: Give Us More Time
By Jacqueline Birzon

“Appeal” has become a popular word on the lips of town and legal officials involved in ongoing litigation with the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA). The latest use of the word comes from the desk of Town Supervisor Frank Petrone, who is appealing the Oct. 20 settlement offer deadline offered by the LIPA board.

Petrone offered a formal proposal at Tuesday night’s town council meeting urging LIPA to extend to Jan. 15, 2014 the Sunday deadline offered to settle a tax certiorari lawsuit on the Northport power plant that would, if LIPA is successful, increase town resident and Northport-East Northport School District taxes to make up the difference.

LIPA spokesman Mark Gross confirmed on Tuesday that LIPA counsel met with legal representatives from the Town of Huntington and Northport-East Northport School District on Oct. 3, but would not discuss what transpired behind closed doors.

The Northport-East Northport School District is also suing LIPA for breach of contract as a third-party beneficiary. Board of Education President Stephen Waldenburg said on Tuesday the board were to meet with their attorneys, John Gross and Carrie Ann Tondo of Ingerman Smith, on Wednesday in executive session for an update on the case. It is likely, he said, that there will be an update on the status of the school district’s case at the Oct. 21 school board meeting.

It is unclear whether the LIPA tax battle with the town will be resolved before the Nov. 5 election, when voters will see Petrone, Councilman Mark Cuthbertson and town board candidate Tracey Edwards, all Democrats, on the “Stop The LIPA Tax Hike” ballot line. The trio formed an official voting line in August after collecting more than 2,000 signatures.

Huntington Republican Committee Treasurer Walter Long filed a lawsuit in September that tried to knock the three Democrats off the “Stop the LIPA Tax Hike” ballot, alleging the candidates misrepresented their cause in an intentionally fraudulent fashion and confused residents into thinking they were signing a citizen’s campaign urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to protect the town in the tax certiorari lawsuit. Ultimately, Judge J. Emmett Murphy dismissed Long’s claims and affirmed the Democrats’ position that their ballot line is neither misleading nor fraudulent.

Grant Lally, a Mineola-based attorney, filed an appeal of Emmet’s decision with the State Appellate Court on Oct. 4 on Long’s behalf, according to Lawrence Silverman, the attorney who represented Petrone in the ballot line case.

However, Silverman said on Tuesday that, based on the limited time frame before the Nov. 5 general election, it is highly possible Lally will be forced to drop the appeal altogether.

Lally did not return calls for comment by press time Tuesday.

Town Democratic leaders are accusing Reublicans of being on the “wrong side of the issue,” but Republicans argue that the supervisor and councilman are playing politics with the LIPA tax case.

LIPA, after requesting a 90-percent reduced assessment on the $3 billion Northport power plant in October 2010, filed a tax certiorari suit against the Town of Huntington.

The town has been in court over the issue since August 2011 when they sued LIPA for breach of contract. LIPA, the town contends, violated a 15-year Power Supply Agreement when they challenged the plant’s assessment in court.

In August of this year, the town hired Poughkeepsie-based attorney Lou Lewis to defend the plant’s current assessment.

Lewis said Tuesday he is still waiting on LIPA to produce documents related to construction costs for the Cathiness power plant. When LIPA produced the documents Lewis asked for, about 90 percent of the information was blacked out and redacted from the record.

Lewis said he is pushing LIPA to hand over the information requested but is hitting roadblocks at every turn, only to be told by LIPA officials that the data the town is looking for is a “trade secret.”

“I’ve been doing this for 35 years and usually, the companies are falling over themselves to give them the information they’re asking for,” Lewis said. “But [LIPA has been] unbelievably obstructive.”

Gross would not expand on how LIPA will proceed once the Sunday deadline has passed, other than to say that the power authority will “move on” with their plans.

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