First, I want to thank you for your excellent news coverage of the LIPA vs. Town of Huntington tax certiorari litigation.
At this writing, it’s certainly old news that I, along with three other members of the Town Board, voted in favor of the LIPA settlement on Thursday evening, September 3rd, and that the measure passed with an easy majority. Getting to that point, however, was anything but easy.
Since taking office in late 2017, I resisted settling, standing firm for a resolution we could live with, however fully aware that there would be no perfect solution or “winners” in this decade-long ordeal.
I believe that stance turned out to be a worthwhile strategy.
By forging ahead in court until the eleventh hour, we preserved hundreds of millions of LIPA tax dollars to the Northport-East Northport School District, and to the Town. Had the Huntington Town Board settled in 2013, we would have lost all of that money.
What we did this summer, specifically, the Northport-East Northport School Board, and the Town Board, was huge in terms of moving the needle in a more favorable direction for our respective and mutual taxpayers.
As the clock ticked toward an imminent court decision, one that by all indications, promised to be nothing short of devastating, it was time to act.
We had but two choices: to allow a judge to render what we knew would be an adverse decision, or, to take control and decide for ourselves how this story could end.
During late June, July and August, the school and town boards collectively pushed and challenged LIPA to help cushion the impact of the proposed reduction of the assessment of the Northport Power Plant.
Our efforts secured a total of $14.5 million from LIPA to the school district, and, more recently, $3 million from LIPA to the Town- something that I directed our Town Attorney Nicholas Ciappetta to pursue- which he successfully brought to fruition.
And, we averted every taxpayer’s exposure to the payment of retroactive taxes and interest to the tune of $800 million, plus.
While no settlement is perfect, to date, Huntington’s terms by far exceed those reached between LIPA and any other municipality.
I know there are people who believe we should have rolled the dice and played hardball with the power authority, while others conjured myriad imaginative “fixes” to our LIPA problem.
In the final analysis, I for one, was unwilling to gamble away our future on what, according to my own careful evaluation and that of every expert I consulted, amounted to a fool’s errand.
When making decisions, especially ones of this magnitude, I believe our citizens rely on their elected leaders to perform thoughtful and thorough due diligence, including risk management assessment, along with the application of our clearest and most unbiased thinking ahead of any self-interest.
As for me, this responsibility required facing the exceedingly stark reality of a catastrophic court decision and not allowing myself to give way to the attractive lure of fantastical ideas, or, the provocative ‘what if’ scenarios harbored by some.
The high anxieties and daunting unknowns visited upon all of us since COVID came into our lives has taken a devastating toll on far too many, with still, no clear resolution on the horizon. That is why, among other compelling reasons, the certainty of a seven-year glidepath, followed by five more years of the same, along with numerous provisions offering assurances to us and to taxpayers, is something thousands of residents, a majority of whom call Northport or East Northport home, not only wanted, but told me they needed.
Awakening to the reality that in the end we opted to settle in no way inspired any victory laps on my part. I chose to instead remain in quiet contemplation, out of respect for those who felt let down, or worse, by the outcome, and also in the knowledge that our majority decision, too, comes with consequences. Nonetheless, I remain resolute that I, and those of my colleagues who voted similarly, made the best possible decision given all considerations.
Looking to the future, as our region’s outdated legacy power plants enter the twilight of their years, eventually to be made obsolete by clean, renewable energy sources, we will need all of the help we can get from our state elected leaders to help ease any financial impacts felt by our transitioning host communities. I will be doing my part to impart that important priority to my elected colleagues in Albany.
Joan Cergol is a member of the Huntington Town Board and was credited by colleague Mark Cuthbertson with having successfully pushed for the LIPA decision to pay the town $3 million.