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aescayuga_plant120The Cayuga Power Plant, Lansing's largest property taxpayer, may be mothballed by January 16th.  In a July 20 letter sent to the New York State Public Service Commission plant manager Jerry Goodenough provided the commission written notice that the plant's two operating units may be shut down.  But new developments planned for a Lansing Town Center could make up for some revenue losses to Lansing schools and the Town.  Four developments on the drawing board could generate more tax monies in their first year than this year's power plant loss.

"If the market rate housing project comes in at $16.5 million that would generate $330,000 in school taxes," Lansing Economic Development Committee Chairman Andy Sciarabba said.  "Four projects (that are currently proposed for the new Town Center)... the year the fourth one is done they will generate $753,000 for the school district and $64,000 for the Town.  That's the market rate project proposed by Calimar, and three projects proposed by NRP that will be affordable."

This year school income from the plant will be reduced to $1,657,826 from $2,162,381 last year.  That amounts to a revenue loss this year of $504,555.  By 2014 that reduction is projected to drop another half million.  While the Town Center developments would not make up the total loss from the power plant, other projects outside of the Town Center could further narrow the gap.  Projects in various stages of planning could total about 400 new units including homes, apartments, and condominiums.  The projects are proposed for North triphammer Road, East Shore Drive, Hillcrest and Warren Roads, and south of Woodsedge.

There is some skepticism in the Town about whether the growth spurt, which could average around 50 dwelling units per year is sustainable in a town that has seen around 30 new units per year for the past several years.  But Town officials point out that developers don't build unless they think they can make a profit.

Sciarabba says continued growth could also help mitigate the loss of municipal income from the power plant, including future retail, professional, and light manufacturing facilities that town officials hope will eventually be part of the Town Center.  Sciarabba worked closely with Tompkins County Area Development's Heather Filaberto to create a Lansing Town Center Incentive Zone that may help prospective businesses and developers get property tax incentives in return for developing on the 153 acres targeted for the Town Center north of 34B across the street from the Lansing ballfields.  Part of the Town Center plan is to build a critical population mass that could sustain businesses there, because businesses are typically a good tax source that don't use municipal resources as much as residents do.

The Cayuga Power Plant was sold to a group of bondholders last month as part of bankruptcy proceedings.  A recent renegotiation in its PILOT agreement with the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency reduces the plant value to $86,250,000 in 2012, down from $112,500,000 last year.  It will continue to slide to $60,000,000 in 2014.

"The current and forecasted wholesale electric prices in New york are inadequate for the Cayuga facility to operate economically and, therefore, Cayuga Operating Company intends to place the Cayuga Facility in protective lay-up to limit the costs that are incurred at the facility," Goodenough wrote.  "Cayuga Operating Company intends to take all steps within its control to avoid permanently retiring the facility by continuing to explore any and all alternatives with its suppliers and other parties, including reductions in its variable and fixed costs."

While plant officials say they are doing all they can to keep the facility open, many residents fear it will close for good as it becomes harder for the coal-powerd plant to compete with gas, water and nuclear powered plants.  If that comes to pass the property will retain some value, but it is not expected to be close to the $1.5 million agreed upon in the PILOT for 2014.

Sciarabba says that makes the sewer and Town Center project all the more important to Lansing taxpayers.  This summer the PILOT reduction will account for 3% of an estimated 4.5% school tax rate rise.

The Town Center project hinges on the successful adoption of a sewer project that will initially service South Lansing, including the Town Center, Lansing schools, Myers and Ladoga Park areas, and the state juvenile detention centers.  Developers of nearby projects are currently negotiating with the Town to include them in a second sewer district to be formed concurrently or soon after the initial district is formed.  The Town hopes these developers will pay for the sewer infrastructure, which will bring new properties into the district without significantly increasing the cost to the Town.  More properties without extra debt means that annual sewer costs will be less for property owners, because the cost of a sewer is shared by all the property owners in the district.

Town sewer committee members plan to present the plan to the public at a 7pm meeting in the Town Hall on August 7th, which they expect to be the first of several such meetings leading up to a vote some time in September.  The committee is also planning a presence at Lansing Harbor Festival and the lansing Farmer's Market.

If successful, town officials say they hope to make up and eventually exceed the loss from the power plant.  Sciarabba's calculation would certainly help overburdened taxpayers.  Town officials recieved a draft 'letter of intent' from NRP Group the other day that begins to lock in their affordable senior housing, and expect a similar letter from Calimar, which plans a market-rate senior housing facility in the Town Center, contingent on the sewer passing.

"That tax benefit is every year," says Lansing Councilman Ed LaVigne.  "This is a huge, huge benefit."

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