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Massena Village Board lets SeaComm PILOT resolution fly out the window

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MASSENA - The Massena Village Board expressed no interest Tuesday evening in a proposed payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement with the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency that would have provided SeaComm Federal Credit Union with tax breaks for the next 10 years for a planned expansion at its Stearns Street location.

The potential resolution was shot down in the village’s regular board meeting, just one month after the town board approved it. The third entity needed to authorize the PILOT, the Massena Central School District, tabled the request during their board of education meeting last week.

SeaComm’s planned expansion of their Stearns Street location would cost $5.8 million. They were 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 taxed at 100 percent after 10 years.

While expanding its building on Stearns Street, SeaComm will be closing its branch office on Main Street as well as office space on Andrews Street, the site of its previous downtown branch.

Mayor James F. Hidy explained that after talking with Assessor Michael C. War, he felt that an agreement would not be in the best interest of the village.

“Speaking with Mike Ward, there are two types of abatements that are offered. One is obviously this one through the county and the other one is a 485-b exemption. I asked Mike what would be the difference between the two as far as how it would affect the village,” Mr. Hidy said.

“Well the total taxes paid by the PILOT, if we went the IDA route, paid to the village after 10 years would be $97,363.45. For the 485-b, we’re looking at $235,295.I can’t support this PILOT being offered by the IDA. We’re not in the position to do it, I don’t think and I just don’t see this kind of money being left on the table at any point in time,” Mr. Hidy said.

The 485-b exemption starts at 50 percent of the increase in assessment for the first year, then drops to 45 percent the next year, and continues decreasing in increments of five for the 10 year period.

The current assessment for SeaComm is $1,258,000, and the IDA has estimated an increase in assessment of $2,241,250 with the addition.

The taxing jurisdictions currently each receive approximately $59,000 and those figures would remain the same after the change.

The PILOT request did not receive support any of the village the board members. “It’s just common sense. It’s ridiculous the amount of money that we would lose,” Trustee Albert C. “Herb” Deshaies said.

“I wish that somebody from SeaComm would have been here because I had a few questions to ask them, because my understanding is that credit unions are a lot different than banks. They already have the upper hand on the bank, and I believe that they do not pay taxes on any of their profits,” Francis Carvel added. “I’m not in favor of either deal because SeaComm now is branched out so far, they’re basically throughout Franklin and St. Lawrence counties. So they’re asking the residents of the village of Massena to absorb this, when if they pay the full amount, it would be absorbed throughout their whole area that they’re involved in.”

Like most PILOT agreements, this one was also tied to job creation, a main reason why the town unanimously approved the request in December.

This idea was talked about at great length by SeaComm President and CEO Scott A. Wilson at the school board meeting last week.

According to the proposed PILOT resolution, the $5.8 million capital investment would create 50 construction jobs, retain 106 jobs, and create 18 full-time jobs.

“I could have sworn that it was 38 full-time jobs and looking at this resolution, it says 18 full-time jobs. I may be wrong about that, but I thought that’s what (Mr. Wilson) said,” board member Timothy J. Ahlfeld said.

“I had heard the same thing two months ago during (Mr. Wilson’s) presentation,” Mr. Hidy added.

“The other thing I would be interested in doing would be, if SeaComm would show us their number of employees today, and then show us their number of employees after year one and after year two and year three and so on. And if it went up by 38 jobs at $40,000 each, I might be interested. But I don’t think they’re going to be willing to do that,” Mr. Ahlfeld said.

“You can say whatever you want to say and last week we saw that in Massena. ... I think the 485-b is the way to go and it’s a decision that Mike can make out of that office. It’s the fair thing to do and I think other entities can get the argument the other way that if this was a brand new business coming in, would be give them the PILOT? However, SeaComm’s been here 50 years and has made a lot of money off of people in this town. You’ve got to weigh it both ways.

“If you tell half the story, you can slant things any way you want to slant them. I think this is the fair way to do it, a 485-b. That’s my opinion.”

Trustee Tricia Wilson said she didn’t think the SeaComm met the criteria designed for PILOT agreements. “This (expansion) is going to happen, They are doing it because it makes good business sense. I don’t think it is encouraging economic development,” she noted.

Despite rejecting plans for the PILOT, Mr. Hidy said he wished SeaComm well with its expansion plans. “I’m just hoping down the road it will be 38 jobs,” he noted.

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