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Island Park residents protest LIPA tax case


“Stop LIPA now! Stop LIPA now!” Island Park residents chanted on the corner of Long Beach and McCarthy roads on Sunday. At the site of the Long Island Power Authority’s E.F. Barrett Generation Station, they rallied against LIPA’s efforts to reduce its property taxes on the plant, and three other plants on Long Island, which would significantly raise residents’ taxes in the communities that host them.

“If Island Park gets hit with the 40 percent increase in taxes, which is what they’re trying to negotiate, we’ll be bankrupt. The school[s] will close,” said Jo-Ellen Risolo Sarnelli, treasurer of the Island Park Civic Association, which hosted the event. “This is a blue-collar community. There isn’t any way that we can afford that.”

Since 2010, LIPA has sought to reduce its tax payments at its power plant in Island Park and at others in Northport, Glenwood Landing and Port Jefferson. LIPA officials have argued that the plants are over-assessed by at least 90 percent, and are challenging Nassau County, the Town of Brookhaven, the Town of Huntington and the Village of Port Jefferson in court to reduce the plants’ value.

“That plant is going to continue to pollute us and hurt our property values,” Island Park resident Richard Schurin, an attorney and a member of the civic association, said at the rally. “In return for having the power plant in its community, [LIPA] supports the community by paying a large amount of taxes. We all bought our homes with that understanding. And what they’ve done is tear up that contract and say to us they don’t care about us anymore.”

Last month, Schurin learned of activism in Northport’s aimed at LIPA’s efforts. Since then, residents of Island Park and Northport have joined forces to raise awareness of the LIPA case and combat its potential effects on their communities. As cars passing the Island Park protest honked, residents waved signs that read, “Keep Your Promise,” “LIPA: Looting Island Park Area” and “Don’t Devastate Communities,” among others.

Paul Darrigo, of Northport, the founder of Concerned Taxpayers Against LIPA, said he supported the Island Park community. “I’ve never been surer that there’s strength in numbers,” Darrigo said. “LIPA is doing advertising that is very locally based, trying to make it seem like they’re only going after small taxing jurisdictions, but it’s really something that is going to impact all of Long Island.”

Darrigo added that he was regularly meeting with local elected officials about the issue, working on advertising campaigns to combat LIPA’s tax challenge, educating residents and planning more protests in coordination with other communities.

Local officials, including Island Park Mayor Michael McGinty, Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito and Nassau County Legislator Denise Ford, also attended the rally.

“While I understand [seeking a] tax certiorari, I also understand the deleterious impact that these events will have on [this area],” McGinty said. “LIPA has promised, too, to rebuild the plants here to be environmentally and economically friendly, so they haven’t kept their word at any step in the process. It’s unconscionable.”

D’Esposito, who was raised and lives in Island Park, expressed concern about the future of the Island Park community and school district. “The purpose of today is to make sure LIPA continues its fair share of what Island Park has taken a burden of for many, many years,” he said.

Ford noted that the toll on the county would be great as well, and many Island Park residents could be forced to move out, resulting in an increase in the number unoccupied, so-called “zombie” homes in the area, if taxes were raised.

“It’s an unfair assessment,” Sarnelli said. “It’s like saying, ‘I own my house but I don’t use it as much anymore, so I don’t want to pay all my taxes, and it’s not running as efficient as it should, so I’m going to ask that my taxes get decreased.’ If they can do it, why can’t we do it? Our businesses are struggling; we’ve been struggling since Sandy. This will just make it that much worse.”

Mike Smollins and Peter Belfiore contributed to this story.