Massena Village Board kills SeaComm tax break request
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 - 4:54 pm

By ANDY GARDNER

MASSENA – If the Village Board of Trustees sticks with its decision not to consider a tax break for SeaComm Federal Credit Union’s planned headquarters expansion, it will effectively kill the request.

The proposition received no motion for a vote and all the board members thought it was too much money to let slide.

“It’s just common sense. It’s ridiculous, the amount of money we’re losing,” Trustee Albert “Herb” Deshaies said. “No way.”

Under the 10-year PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) deal, SeaComm would pay the taxes on the pre-expansion assessed value, plus 10 percent of the new value for five years. They would pay the current taxes plus 50 percent of the new assessment for the second five years and pay full taxes after a decade. It would amount to a 70-percent tax abatement. A document provided at Tuesday’s meeting shows that SeaComm would pay in total taxes $97,363.45 over the 10 years.

The Massena Town Council approved the PILOT at their Dec. 18 meeting, and the Massena Central School District Board of Education tabled voting on it at their last meeting and will revisit the issue next month. But all three boards – town, village and school – would have to sign off on it if it is to happen.

And with the village’s refusal to consider the PILOT, that will end SeaComm’s quest for a PILOT agreement.

Mayor James Hidy said SeaComm could be offered a so-called 485-b exemption through the village assessor’s office, where they would pay more taxes but still be cut a break. That would see the credit union put $235,295 into the village coffers over a decade. Village Assessor Mike Ward has the sole discretion to offer a 485-b deal.

“I think the 485-b is the way to go and it’s a decision that can be made out of [the assessor’s] office,” Trustee Timothy Ahfeld said. “I think that’s a fair way to do it.”

“A PILOT, to me, is an economic development tool to encourage something that wouldn’t otherwise happen,” Trustee Patricia Wilson said. “This is going to happen .. I don’t think [a PILOT] is encouraging economic development, so I’m not in favor of it.”

Hidy said he is skeptical because SeaComm officials told him at a private meeting late last year that they would create 38 full-time jobs as a condition of the deal. But the credit union is now saying they will create 18. Ahfeld agreed.

“There was no mention of a PILOT at the initial presentation” the credit union gave the village board last year, according to Ahfeld. He said he was extra-weary of the pledge in light of last week’s announcement that Alcoa will close Massena’s east plant, putting up to 350 jobs at risk.

“You can say all you want,” Ahfeld said.

Trustee Francis Carvel said he was miffed that SeaComm didn’t send a representative to the meeting. He said they already get huge tax breaks from the federal government because they are a credit union, not a bank.

“There are no federal taxes on their profits as a credit union,” according to Carvel, who also said “I don’t see this amount of money being left on the table at any point in time – that’s a lot of money.”

At the school district’s meeting, SeaComm CEO Scott Wilson addressed the board in open session and said they would create 28 jobs, but have pledged a minimum of 18. He added that they will retain 106 positions and create about 50 18-month construction jobs.

SeaComm is looking at expanding its 30 Stearns Street location by 15,700 square feet to consolidate all its Massena operations.

They would close the 79 Main Street branch and move those employees to Stearns Street.

It will also house SeaComm’s call center, commercial loan department and its new risk management department.