Town working through 2020 budget plan
The Town of Porter will review its tentative 2020 budget in a presentation, open to the public, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, at Town Hall.
While actual numbers have yet to be released, Supervisor Duffy Johnston said, overall, the town’s property owners should expect a similar plan to 2019. Last year, the Porter board adopted a $5.048 million budget that brought a tax rate of $1.999 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to more than 1,900 residential property units.
“Everything’s going to be close to the same,” Johnston said.
He noted town employees would get a 2% raise. Other than that expense, town spending would remain similar to last year.
One major exception to that could be the possible impact from CWM Chemical Services, which remains in a lengthy application permit process with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to determine its future in the River Region.
Johnston said the Town of Porter, the Lewiston-Porter School District and Niagara County are now contending with an Article 78 suit filed by CWM and its parent Waste Management that seeks to lower the assessments on CWM’s 730-acre Balmer Road facility from an estimated $25-26 million down to $5 million.
“That’s (the assessment suit) in litigation, and we’re going with the county, (possibly) with the school (Lew-Port) joining us. We’re waiting to hear from them,” Johnston explained.
CWM said the lower assessment request on the facility reflects its diminished operating capacity that has continued since the November 2015 closure of CWM’s Residuals Management Unit 1 hazardous waste landfill.
CWM remains in a years-long process of seeking state DEC permits for a massive new RMU-2 landfill that, if approved, could bring a return of hazardous waste landfilling to Balmer Road. At present, the DEC’s appointed siting board continues to review data from the River Region community with respect to local home values, property tax receipts and the impact to the local economy from CWM operations.
“That being said, we have special counsel for this; the county has special counsel and the school is supposed to. The school has more skin in the game than we got to lose,” Johnston said.
He estimated the economic loss for the Lewiston-Porter School District from a successful CWM reassessment suit to be $460,000 per year, while Porter’s loss would be $36,000 annually. Johnston said the impact for Niagara County could be in the $197,000 range annually.
Johnston noted Porter, the county and Lew-Port are considering their next steps. Officials are expected to meet and discuss the matter on Oct. 18.
One anticipated problem is determining the actual assessment of the CWM facility.
“The things that it’s going to come down to is that there’s a handful of assessors than can do the assessment on a chemical company like that in the United States. … We’re trying to find somebody who knows everything about hazardous waste – whatever you took in, what’s buried in that place, which you can’t move, and everything like that. That’s how you’re going to assess this property,” Johnston said.
He went on to question the profits WM and CWM actually realized from decades of operation on Balmer Road in the company’s current re-assessment argument.
“That stuff can’t be moved. So you’re going to tell me you made a trillion dollars on that, and you can’t pay your $26 million (assessment) in property tax?” Johnston said, “Look, I’m already on record (on this). That (being) said, OK, they said it’s worth $26 million (when operating) and now down to $5 million, then they get their permit to expand? Then it’s going to be a $60 million (assessment). That’s what it’s worth. So they can start paying triple taxes on it.”
“We get 2% of their total intake,” Johnston said, referring to the CWM gross receipt monies paid to local governmental interests including the Town of Porter, Town of Lewiston, the Lewiston-Porter School District, Niagara-Wheatfield School District and Wilson School District from CWM’s hazardous waste treatment and landfilling operations when the company’s RMU-1 landfill was in full operation.
CWM enjoined with the town in a 2001 community host agreement – one that was controversial then and remains contentious among many circles to this day.
Basically operating in a shutdown mode since November 2015 – with the exception of limited leachate treatment – CWM’s gross receipts tax payment to Porter is expected to be $600 this year according to the town’s 2020 budget planning estimates. That’s down from hundreds of thousands received annually in gross receipts payouts when RMU-1 operated at full swing.
“They’ll bring in trillions of dollars, not millions of dollars (under a fully operating RMU landfill),” Johnston said. “If they got enough on this cell to last 20 years, you know how much … money that is?
“So that assessment is going to go up (if CWM reopens). Once that’s full and you made all those trillions of dollars, that land is not worth anymore, because it’s full?
“You can’t do that. … They made their damn money. What they’re (CWM) trying to do is push the envelope.”
In response, Lori Caso, public affairs spokesperson from Waste Management, stated, “We are appealing the assessment to reflect the current economic value of the site.
“We do anticipate that the property value will go back up after receiving the necessary permits, operations resume and Model City can once again continue the substantial economic benefits it provides to the local economy. For certain, the property is not as valuable to the community while not in operation.”
Johnston said the town is troubled with the prospect of covering the cost of hiring specialized attorneys to deal with the CWM reassessment suit, not to mention retaining a specialized assessor. He said the town is considering its options and awaits further discussion on this area with Lewiston-Porter.
In the meantime, he said the town is already handling costs related to the CWM reassessment.
“I’m paying (attorney Mike) Dowd; I’m paying Marc Brown from Goldberg Segalla; now we’re paying another … his job is to arrange the right people to do it (handle the many facets of the litigation); he’s been through this litigation so many times he’s got a lot more things to bring to the table as a consultant. That’s why we’re meeting on the 18th and try to get all these parties involved,” Johnston said. “It’s all about funding this. I’m trying to do a budget without their (CWM’s) money.”
In other budget notes:
•Johnston said the town is considering various funding requests from the Highway Department and suggested they may not be approved.
He also said Porter is contending with a potential $200-per-year garbage fee for the town’s roughly 1,970 residential units, not including commercial properties. Johnston said the town is preparing a new request for proposals for Modern Disposal, which continues to handle its residential waste/recycling services. He said the town discontinued its garbage fee for residential units during 2003-4 under the Wiepert administration in an era of high gross receipts reimbursements from CWM.
He said much has changed and continues to change with the local garbage industry, particularly with respect with RFPs from competing companies. Johnston said Covanta has basically shut off its disposal services to local markets due to greatly increased refuse volume from the New York City market, and local companies are shut out in many respects. In turn, they are increasingly relying on Modern’s Lewiston landfill to handle disposal needs, and that translates to higher costs.
“It’s too crazy. RFPs are going to go up for everybody,” Johnston said.
He called the projected $200 charge a ballpark figure.
“We’re in the last year of our contact extension, so we’ll have to wait and see,” Johnston said.
Porter residents can learn more about the town’s 2020 budget and its various financial issues at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Town Hall.