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Watertown school board ready to vote on PILOT

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The Community Rental Housing Committee approved $50,000 Wednesday morning to fund a study for Watertown City School District on the impacts of the COR Development and Morgan Management tax breaks.

According to Development Authority of the North County Chief Executive Officer James W. Wright, “We are assisting the district and providing funding for a growth impact study.”

This study will look into various potential problems unique to the district, such as the impact of inflated school enrollment. No deadline for the study has been determined.

“We’re not going to try to micromanage their process,” said Mr. Wright.

However, it is improbable the study could be finished by next week.

Tuesday, the Board of Education approved an impromptu resolution to vote on Morgan Management’s payment-in-lieu-of-taxes proposal at the May 1 board meeting at Case Middle School following a public budget hearing at 7 p.m.

“Can we put this to bed Tuesday night?” asked board member Peter E. Monaco. “Morgan deserves an answer, yea or nay. I think we need to make this happen.”

Board President Michael R. Flick said the vote “probably” will be taken at the next meeting.

Morgan is proposing a 394-unit apartment complex off County Route 202. Under the agreement, Morgan will pay $2,122,468, or 50 percent of full taxation, over the first 10 years.

At the end of the 10th year, the company will pay more than $231,000 to Jefferson County and the school district. It then will pay taxes at the full-assessment rate, expected to total about $465,000. The agreement will last for 15 years, with tax increases capped at 1 percent for years 11 through 15.

Board member Patrick J. Powers said the PILOT could not be imposed on the school district if the board votes against it.

“You need to understand that we can approve the project or kill the project by the way you vote,” he said.

Jefferson County Industrial Development Corporation Chief Executive Officer Donald C. Alexander confirmed the statement, but said the city would be impacted negatively if the school board votes the PILOT down.

“The first thing is that we would quite possibly lose the project,” he said. “I think the impact upon the community could be catastrophic. We’re going to be hard pressed to satisfy the Army’s request for more housing.”

He said the decision could keep Fort Drum from expanding at the very least. He would not speculate on what the worst outcome would be.

“All I know is that we must have housing and we as the community have to figure this out,” he said

He said he understood the situation the board was in because he was a part of the Gen. Brown Central School Board of Education in the past. However, he felt the board should treat the project and the enrollment issues separately.

Board members did not display support for the project during the board meeting Tuesday, voicing their concerns about financial issues the PILOT could bring to the district. In their eyes, the project and the school issues are not separate.

Board President Michael R. Flick said that, although the community wants Watertown to be an economic hub, no one would want to move their children to a place where the education is compromised because of a school district’s floundering finances.

“What do you want your school district to look like? They go hand-in-glove,” he said. “They are codependent. They should be co-located.”

Board Vice President Cynthia H. Bufalini agreed. “We still want people to move to the district, and we can’t do that on a shoe string.”

Even with the smaller projections that are being suggested, Yvonne E. Gebo was worried about the enrollment affecting the district’s elementary school. She said a worst case scenario would lead to the district needing to build another school.

“Our kindergarten numbers are already more than what we would consider for an educational standard,” she said. “Our primary concern is still to provide a quality education and maintain the staff we have.”

During a previous board meeting, Superintendent Terry N. Fralick said there could be nearly 500 additional students enrolled because of the two developments. Classrooms could be added to the Ohio and Starbuck elementary schools, but many of the others already have had the maximum amount of additions built. A bigger problem would be how to pay for additional classrooms and teachers.

When the board voted on COR Development’s PILOT in December, Mrs. Gebo and Deltra B. Willis were the two members who voted against it. During a previous interview, Morgan Management CEO Robert C. Morgan said he felt confident the PILOT would be passed because it is so similar to COR Development’s proposal.

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