LOWVILLE – While the Lewis County Industrial Development Agency likely won’t be able to legally prevent companies under a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement from challenging assessments, agency officials will look at possible policy changes that could address legislative concerns.
Following a discussion on the matter Thursday, acting IDA Chairman Craig R. Brennan requested that agency Executive Director Eric J. Virkler review the Uniform Tax Exemption Policy with attorneys and recommend any alterations in the next month or two.
County legislators at their final meeting of 2017 unanimously voted to establish as a general policy that future PILOT recipients agree not to commence any tax assessment challenges during the years the agreement is in effect or for any renewal, extension or modification period and recommend the IDA incorporate that into its policy.
It was later determined that such a restriction would probably not be legally enforceable, but there may be other options, County Manager Ryan M. Piche said. For example, a company with a PILOT may not be stopped from filing an assessment challenge, “but we don’t have to give them a PILOT if they have a current challenge,” he said.
IDA board member Christina J. Schneider, also the chief financial officer at Purcell Construction Corp., Watertown, said having a right to challenge is essential to developers, both as protection against a significant assessment increase and a way to establish post-PILOT taxation ahead of time. “It affects my future when I go off the PILOT,” she said. Companies who apply for PILOTs could be asked if they intend to file an assessment challenge for a certain period of time, Mrs. Schneider said.
With PILOT payments often set as a percentage of a property’s assessed value, there may be a way to keep companies under PILOTs from filing legal challenges unless their assessment is raised above a designated level, IDA attorney Thomas A. Campany said.
Board member Jared J. Thisse said he would be fine with changes as long as they were legal and wouldn’t dissuade businesses from building and expanding.
Some IDA board members said they were caught off guard by the legislative action, but Mr. Brennan, a former legislator who did not run for re-election last fall, said lawmakers were well aware they were just making a recommendation and could not impose anything on the IDA.
“It was a request, not a requirement,” added new Legislature Chairman Lawrence L. Dolhof, R-Lyons Falls.
The IDA board on Thursday also gave a short tribute to Roscoe K. “Rocky” Fawcett, the board chairman and county legislator who died Monday at the age of 81, and near the end of the meeting appointed Mr. Brennan as chairman until the annual election in June.
Board member Shawn J. Moshier said he also intends to step down, although he may be willing to stay on until a replacement is found.
Mr. Piche said the county can begin advertising for candidates interested in the two impending vacancies, with anyone interested asked to submit a letter of interest and resume to the legislative office.
While the legislative Economic Development Committee has handled interviews of IDA board candidates in recent years, there was some discussion on allowing some current IDA board members to join the interview committee.
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