The debate over a long-term Payment In Lieu Of Taxes agreement between the city and town of Plattsburgh has led to the city retaining outside lawyers to investigate.
In mid-December during an open mic incident following a Common Council meeting, Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read was captured commenting about a 20-year-old agreement with the town. “We think that the town has been holding back a sum that could be into the seven figures that the city really deserves.”
At the time Mayor Read explained that he was discussing a 1992 Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, agreement between the city and town regarding property now owned by Falcon Seaboard. “Somehow in 2009 the amount that went to the city declined by about 90 percent. And we just not having much luck so far getting the documents necessary for us to understand what happened. Then in 2017 another set of negotiations occurred, again without an inclusion of the city, which brought the city’s share down dramatically again. So we’re trying to understand how all that occurred.”
The mayor demanded documents from the town and filed a FOIA request. The dispute has escalated over the weeks. Plattsburgh Attorney Dennis Curtin, who wrote the PILOT for the utility, told the Plattsburgh Press-Republican newspaper that “It was never contemplated that the city would get anything after 15 years.” But former Mayor Clyde Rabideau wrote to the paper the PILOT was intended to be in place until 2024 and payments to the city were supposed to increase 2.5 percent per year between 2010-2024.
The PILOT agreement came about after the city threatened to annex the property.
Mayor Read believes the city may have lost nearly $14 million. Over the weekend he announced he had retained the private legal firm Stafford Owens to “..take all actions necessary to obtain information regarding the Town’s acts and omissions in this matter and to take prudent action to preserve the city’s legal rights.” Mayor Read is referring all inquiries to attorney Bill Owens, who says it’s not unusual to have outside counsel investigate such matters. “We have secured the information Mr. Read requested through a FOIA about five weeks ago. Now we’ll go through and begin to study the documents.”
Bradley: “Could there be documents outside of the FOIA request that you will need to review?”
Owens: “Yes that’s quite possible. We also believe that it’s probably in the best interest of the city and the city taxpayers that we sit down with the town once we’ve done our analysis of the documents to determine how we should proceed and to see if there’s some resolution that could be had.”
Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Michael Cashman points out that he was 12 years old when the original PILOT agreement was crafted. He believes the city plans to sue the town. “The town of Plattsburgh has not been hiding any material. But I really think it’s quite unfortunate that the city is positioning themselves to sue the Town of Plattsburgh. The property is in the Town of Plattsburgh. I think that the mayor still has great misunderstandings about what has occurred. And it really goes back to that 1992 agreement. I was 12 as I said before. I say that to put it in the context of this agreement is very complex. And until he’s willing to sit down at the table and review the documents and not lawyer up I think that’s going to prevent our ability to do some good work.”
Attorney Owens says it will take several weeks to review the documents. The firm will then prepare a report for the mayor and city council with recommendations for how to proceed. Owens is a former congressman and a commentator for WAMC.