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Air Brake PILOT amendment still needs city approval

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Just one more jurisdiction’s vote — Watertown City Council’s — is necessary to pass New York Air Brake’s tax break amendment on the 748 Starbuck Ave. facility.

The Watertown City School District Board of Education and the Jefferson County Board of Legislators on Tuesday approved allowing the company to pay property taxes based on current assessed value rather than the amount agreed to in a mid-1990s payment-in-lieu-of-tax agreement.

Neither board had opposition to the approval; county Legislator Philip N. Reed Sr. abstained from voting.

“We talked about it in a previous finance meeting,” said Board of Education President Michael R. Flick after Tuesday’s meeting. “It seemed pretty reasonable.”

If the City Council approves of the measure, however, Air Brake’s next payment to the school district will decrease $15,240, from $43,878 to $28,638 — assuming 2012’s tax rates do not change.

According to the 2012 tax rates, payment to the county would have decreased by $11,044 and payment to the city would decrease by $11,036.

The agreement’s amendment changes the language to make payments based on the year’s property value. This year’s value is $2,876,000, slightly more than half the value of when the PILOT was approved.

According to City Assessor Brian S. Phelps, it was only recently that the assessment for New York Air Brake was below what was calculated in the 20-year agreement.

“I’m pretty convinced (Air Brake) would have paid more overall if there was no agreement,” he said. “For most years, the assessment was actually the same as based on the agreement.”

There was not a lot of discussion before the Board of Education’s vote. Some of the questions revolved around language specifics, such as how the school district was referred to — Greater Watertown School District — and what the amendment asks, or doesn’t ask, for.

Board member Patrick J. Powers said he believed Air Brake did not ask for a refund.

To get a refund, the company would have had to have overpaid, however.

“They have not overpaid a penny,” said Mr. Phelps. “They paid exactly what they contractually agreed to. Truly, there was no mistake and nothing nefarious.”

County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III commended Air Break for choosing to change the PILOT language rather than cancel it — which would have yielded the same results. “We applaud that commitment to the community, the civic commitment,” he said.

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