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JCIDA narrowly authorizes distribution of new tax-exempt policy that would allow overrides

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One month after clamoring for wider powers in giving property tax breaks, the sentiment of the board of the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency changed, almost ending the effort.

The changes included adding rental housing units to the list of acceptable industries to give payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements. But the bigger change would allow the board to force a PILOT with a standard pro rata distribution, even if not all of the taxing jurisdictions agreed. The action would require five votes of the seven members, by statute. PILOTs that deviate from the normal distribution, which reflects the proportion of property taxes distributed among a property’s taxing jurisdictions, still would require agreement from all involved jurisdictions.

New board member Michael J. Docteur, a Jefferson County legislator, disagreed with the proposal.

“It would be very difficult for me to take the authority from the taxing jurisdictions, which would take it away from the officials elected to govern an area and, by doing that, it would take away the voice of the people who elected them,” he said.

But board member W. Edward Walldroff disagreed.

“I see this as the towns and taxing jurisdictions should see it as a threat — an impetus or motivation to come to terms on a PILOT and get it done,” he said. “When I see some of the hidden agendas going on with school boards or town boards, it makes me nervous.”

In the past, JCIDA has had the authority to force PILOTs, which is allowed for those with standard distribution under state statute. JCIDA attorney W. James Heary told board members a month ago that the JCIDA has used that method only once with one jurisdiction to create a PILOT for a business.

In November 2010, the board agreed to some changes to the policy that included a requirement to have all PILOTs approved by all taxing jurisdictions, with the sole exception of a standard PILOT of 15 years or less for a manufacturing project.

But recently, after difficulties in negotiations for PILOTs on housing and a rail spur into West Carthage, the JCIDA staff and board had decided they might need the power as a negotiating tool.

The board’s acceptance of the proposal for distribution to all taxing jurisdictions in the county and a public hearing originally appeared to pass on a 4-1 vote, with Mr. Docteur opposing. But board member Urban C. Hirschey minutes later decided to vote against it.

“I’d just as soon postpone it until we have the chance to know more,” he said.

Mr. Hirschey was a member of the committee that worked on the new language. But the 3-2 vote still carried the resolution, as the approval needed the support of those present, not of the seven board members.

Board members John Doldo Jr., who has been ill in recent months, and William H. Fulkerson were absent. Mr. Fulkerson tendered his resignation to board Chairman David J. Converse in December, as he is out of the county for multiple months during the winter.

“I don’t think enough praises could be said for his service to our community,” Mr. Converse said.

The Jefferson County Legislature will appoint a new member.

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