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Massena School Board tables request for SeaComm PILOT agreement

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MASSENA - The Massena Central School Board of Education tabled making a decision on to authorize a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) between the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency and SeaComm Federal Credit Union for the financial institution’s proposed $5.8 million expansion of their Stearns Street location.

Board members Loren Fountaine, Patrick Bronchetti and William Sommerfield opposed tabling the decision, which Mr. Fountaine noting he was ready to approve it during the board’s meeting Thursday night.

The district is one of three entities, along with the town and village of Massena, who must authorize the PILOT. Town officials have already given their approval, and Patrick Kelly, executive director of the county IDA said they still need to discuss it with village officials.

SeaComm is asking for a 10-year PILOT agreement, with 90 percent abatement on the improved value of real property for the first five years after its completion, and 50 percent of what taxes would otherwise be on the improved value of real property for years six through 10. They would be taxed at 100 percent after 10 years.

Mr. Kelly provided board members with “some assumptions;” some estimates based on where we think the project will go.”

The current assessment for SeaComm’s Stearns Street location is $1,258,000. Based on discussions with the assessor, Mr. Kelly said they anticipate an increase of about $2.2 million with the addition, bringing the full assessment up to about $3.5 million.

The taxing jurisdictions currently each receive about $59,000 based on the existing SeaComm facility on Stearns Street, he said. Those existing tax payments will remain the same, he said.

For the first five years of the PILOT, Mr. Kelly said their estimates indicate an increase in taxes from $59,000 to approximately $69,000. For years six to 10, it would increase from $69,000 to about $111,000 for all the taxing jurisdictions. Once the PILOT is over after 10 years, that would jump to $164,000.

“Essentially we are trying to assist the company as they look to grow, as they look to expand, as they look to add jobs,” Mr. Kelly said.

But board President John R. Boyce said he was concerned that the district, in a time when schools were facing financial difficulties, wouldn’t receive the full amount of taxes for 10 years.

“From a straight numbers point of view, that’s 10 years out with no tax increases - straight, flat zero for the next 10 years,” he said.

“This is not going to cover what we currently have here. We are going to have to use the fund balance. That being said, how do I look at this any other way than using our fund balance so SeaComm doesn’t have to pay taxes?” Mr. Boyce wondered.

SeaComm President and CEO Scott A. Wilson suggested that what SeaComm was not paying for those 10 years could be balanced out by the jobs the expansion would create at SeaComm.

“I’m really focused on those 28 jobs for the community. The fact is, yes, you are not getting those dollars today. But the point is, we’ll have people coming in here that may not live here, who will buy homes, pay taxes and enroll their children here. I think you have to look at the big picture in terms of that,” he said.

“I came into this very skeptical,” Mr. Fountaine added, but decided he could support the request because of the new jobs the expansion would create.

“I think it’s important now more than ever to bring those types of jobs to Massena,” he said

Mr. Boyce wasn’t convinced, however. He said that, without the PILOT, SeaComm could still expand and bring those jobs to Massena. But it would just take a longer time, he said.

“On the flip side the jobs are created either way,” he said.

Mr. Wilson said the 28 new positions were guaranteed under the agreement between SeaComm, the IDA and three entities. The jobs would pay on average $45,000 plus benefits, he said.

“We have to be committed to that and agree to that. In order to continue to do the things we need to do, we need good people,” he said.

Mr. Kelly said the IDA, as part of the agreement, would track the numbers for the 10 years of the PILOT agreement. If any provision is broken, the PILOT can be terminated and SeaComm would be put on the full tax roll.

Board member Kevin Perretta wondered how the tax revenues would be affected if the actual assessment was lower than the projection once the project was complete.

“What if the assessor goes lower and we’re bound to that?” he wondered.

“We talked to the assessor. We think we’re in the ball park. You’re never able to say this is what the future assessment will be at some point in time,” Mr. Kelly said.

Mr. Perretta also wondered if the percentage of taxes SeaComm would pay was up for negotiation.

“Ultimately it is whatever the company and the jurisdictions agree to. I need all jurisdictions to approve it. There’s no portioning it out,” Mr. Kelly said.

“I think the important part for us is that we want to put people to work. We need them. This will help us to move forward a little faster. Obviously that’s important to us,” Mr. Wilson said. “The long-term benefit is after the PILOT we’re going to pay all these taxes and we’re going to have all these jobs. It’s all going to add to what you get initially, and you are getting something. At the end of the day it’s going to be good for the community.

“We just want to make sure we can retain the jobs we have, grow more positions and be able to offer a good working environment for people who want to come back to Massena,” he said.

Before board members voted, Mr. Kelly said he hoped they would take into consideration the pluses of the project.

“They’re a local company. There’s obviously history here and we’re trying to help them. Any time you see new investment and new facilities on a main thoroughfare in one of your communities, you think it’s a good thing and I think there’s a lot of merit to the project and I hope you support it,” he said.

Mr. Kelly said he would hate to see “a home field disadvantage,” noting that some might approach a project with a new company with more enthusiasm than with a company with a 50 years of history in Massena.

“I’d hate to see that work against one of my existing companies,” he said.

Mr. Wilson also pointed out that SeaComm has been a strong supporter of the school, contributing to the Massena Music Friends, Robotics and, most recently, a Wounded Warrior Project being done by students. They also support the proposed Boys and Girls Club of Massena, which will benefit Massena Central’s students.

“We’re extremely committed to the community and especially education,” he said.

But, in the end, board members opted to table the resolution and will address it again at their next meeting.

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