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Massena. RACER agree to GM site assessment reduction

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MASSENA - The General Motors Powertrain property is now assessed at one-fifteenth the value it had several years ago and that means a major hit in property tax revenues for the town, county and school district.

The Massena Town Council unanimously approved Wednesday night an agreement with the GM site’s owner, the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust, to lower the assessed value.

The GM site will drop retroactively from nearly $3 million to $1.7 million in 2011 and down to $1 million in 2012, according to Supervisor Joseph D. Gray.

The GM site had been assessed at $15 million in 2004 when the automotive plant was fully operational, according to town Assessor Michael C. Ward. By 2009, the assessment had dropped to $12 million. After the plant closed, Motors Liquidation, which preceded the trust as the site owner, successfully challenged the assessment to drop to $2.9 million.

Last year, RACER filed a grievance to lower the assessment to $1,000, a proposition which left Mr. Gray and others fuming. Mr. Gray said the two sides agreed to the lowered assessment following negotiations.

“It could have been a lot worse,” he said. “It’s better than what we had prepared for, quite honestly.”

The town, county and school district will owe RACER money for last year’s retroactive reduction. The town and county will pay a combined $10,900 to the trust for that reduction, while the district will pay $21,225.

Mr. Gray said the town tried to stay in close contact with the school district during the negotiations. Massena Central School Superintendent Roger B. Clough II could not be reached for comment Thursday.

In just three years, revenue collected from the site has decreased substantially. Massena collected over $42,000 in town wide property taxes from GM in 2009, the year the plant closed, based on data compiled from the St. Lawrence County Real Property Tax Office. With this year’s $1 million assessment, the town will receive just over $3,500 in taxes.

The school district collected over $225,000 in taxes from the property in 2009. Based on the district’s 2011-2012 tax rates and the 2011 adjusted assessment, the district collects nearly $29,000 from the property.

Mr. Gray was critical of the assessment reduction process.

“It’s a dance, and it’s part of the way business is done in the 21st century,” he said. “It takes time, it ties up money and it makes lawyers richer.”

Mr. Gray said he was hopeful GM property’s assessed value was bottoming out. As the remediation of the Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site continues, he believes the assessed value will rebound.

“I think we can substantiate that,” he said. “You’re talking about a significant amount of property on the shore of the St. Lawrence River with some type of dock access.”

RACER Assistant Redevelopment Manager Patricia Spitzley said she was pleased the two entities had reached an agreement.

“We said all along we want to be a good neighbor, and we want to pay our fair share of property taxes at all of our sites,” she said. “But we want the assessment based on what’s actually going on at that site. It is not an active manufacturing site anymore.”

Crews demolished the former automotive plant last year. RACER’s initial offer of $1,000 was the “beginning of a process” to knock the assessment down, Ms. Spitzley said.

“RACER was never going to pay $1,000,” she said. “We’re pleased the board has reacted positively to our petition.”

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