NAPLES – Residents and members of the Naples Valley-Bristol Hills Association and Cohocton Wind Watch were united in their pleas to the Naples Board of Education on Wednesday night: reject the payments-in-lieu-of-taxes plan proposed by the Steuben County Industrial Development Agency (SCIDA), and instead demand full taxation on the three Cohocton Wind project turbines that fall within the Naples school district.
The school board only recently learned that the turbines are within the district. It was an oversight by UPC Wind, the company behind the project, that the board was not informed; an oversight for which UPC public outreach coordinator Rick Towner was sent to the meeting to apologize on behalf of the company.
Towner turned some heads, however, when he denied an audience member’s request to stand up or turn toward the audience while speaking so he could be better heard.
“I’m addressing the board,” Towner replied and continued speaking, adding that project manager Chris Swartly would address the board at a later date.
SCIDA Executive Director James Sherron also spoke at the meeting and submitted letters to board members asking them to vote for a “freeze” that would keep the share of the PILOT payments received by the Naples school district at the same level for 20 years. PILOT payments are typically divided between the county, town and school district in which a PILOT-associated project falls. When asked what would be the benefit of freezing the PILOT distribution ratio, Sherron said it would make budgeting easier for the district.
Sherron told the school board that SCIDA would delay its scheduled Dec. 20 vote on the PILOT program, and that a public hearing on PILOT plans would take place in late January.
In letters submitted to the school board and to the Messenger, local advocacy groups Cohocton Wind Watch and the Naples Valley-Bristol Hills Association (NVBHA) urged the board to reject PILOT payments and demand the full value of tax revenue from the wind project.
“We are convinced you can make a better offer,” said Elisabeth Johnsen Cowley on behalf of the NVBHA. Allowing SCIDA to dictate the terms of the PILOT payments, said Cowley, is akin to “letting a goat watch the grain bag.”
Cowley raised longstanding concerns about the negative impact of the wind turbines on property values and whether accepting PILOT payments would diminish the amount of state aid the district receives.
Cohocton Wind Watch had similar concerns, listed in a letter signed by member James Hall.
Hall’s letter criticized SCIDA’s methods and transparency, stating that “James Sherron, Executive Director of SCIDA consistently misrepresents his authority and fails to effectively administer his duties.”
The letter cites as evidence a March 28 audit of SCIDA by the state comptroller’s office, which lists eight specific recommendations for improving SCIDA’s functioning. Sherron responded that the audit was merely a form letter sent to all IDAs in the state.
School board President David Till said the board would form a committee to further investigate the district’s payment options.
A public hearing concerning PILOT payments and Windfarm Prattsburgh, a UPC project that may include turbines in the Naples School District, will be held at the Prattsburgh Town Hall at 10 a.m. on Dec. 18.
By Hilary Smith, staff writer
14 December 2007
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