Massena school board tables decision on Seacomm PILOT
Monday, January 20, 2014 - 6:13 am

By ANDY GARDNER

MASSENA -- The Board of Education put off voting on granting Seacomm Federal Credit Union a tax break on its expansion project. Since they voted to table, they are required by law to hold a vote at their next meeting, which is scheduled for February 6.

The board’s discussion showed they were split on giving a nod to the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) deal. Board president John Boyce said he is especially weary given recent state aid cuts and the pending 2014-2015 budget process.

“We’re looking at this coming year a tax cap of about a percent-and-a-half,” Boyce said. “How do I look at this any other way than using fund balance so Seacomm doesn’t have to pay taxes.”

Seacomm is looking at expanding its 30 Stearns Street location by 15,700 square-feet to consolidate all its Massena operations and needs approval from the town, school and village board before the IDA can give them the break. The IDA are allowed by law to convey their tax-exempt status on new manufacturing businesses. A project such as Seacomm’s requires approval of all three boards, Kelly said, since it doesn’t meet that criterion.

The 10-year deal would see the new expansion taxed at the existing building’s rate, plus 10 percent of the new assessment. The second five years would be today’s rate plus 50 percent of the new value. After 10 years, they will pay full taxes.

Boyce noted that this could mean as much as $750,000 in taxes being withheld from the school district’s coffers. He fears this year they may have to use as much as $270,000 in fund balance to offset a tax increase.

The current property is assessed at $1,258,000; Seacomm is anticipating a roughly $3.5 million assessment once the expansion is complete. Currently, the town school and village each get about $59,000 per year in taxes from Seacomm, Kelly said.

Kelly and Seacomm CEO Scott Wilson told the board that if the school approves the PILOT, they will win in the long run. As part of the deal with the IDA, Seacomm has pledged to create a minimum of 18 full-time jobs, Wilson said the actual number will be 28. He added that they will retain 106 positions and create about 50 18-month construction jobs.

“One thing Seacomm has never done in nearly 50 years is lay off one person,” Wilson told the board.

If Seacomm reneges on their employment pledge, the IDA can yank the PILOT and they would immediately begin paying full taxes, according to Kelly.

“These are good, living-wage jobs … in the $45,000 [per year] range,” according to Wilson, who added the positions include a complete benefit package. “If people are working, they’re paying taxes, buying homes and enrolling their kids in school.”

Board member Loren Fountaine said he was initially skeptical but was persuaded that the PILOT is in everyone’s best interest.

“If we can create 18 full-time jobs in this community … you’re talking about $900,000 in [annual] salaries,” he said.

Wilson said the savings from the PILOT deal will allow Seacomm to create the jobs more quickly, but Boyce wasn’t buying the argument.

“These jobs are going to get created either way,” he said, adding that he feels that way since they are necessary to maintain operations at the new expansion.

Kelly voiced disappointment at the board’s skepticism.

“I hate to see a homefield disadvantage,” he said.

The town board approved the Seacomm PILOT at their December board meeting by unanimous vote. Wilson said he will ask the village board to adopt the PILOT deal at a future meeting.