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Owens pushes Watertown school board on Drum housing PILOT

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WASHINGTON — Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, weighed in with the Watertown Board of Education two weeks ago on a property tax break for a proposed housing development but said Thursday that he urged only a “fair” agreement and not a particular plan.

The congressman’s call came well ahead of a school board meeting on Tuesday at which members balked at the proposed break, suggesting they would not be inclined to support the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes arrangement with COR Development Co., Fayetteville, to build a 305-unit apartment complex.

The proposed development is in response to demand from Fort Drum, where expansion and the return of soldiers from deployments continues to strain the north country housing market. Mr. Owens said he called board President Michael R. Flick at the request of James W. Wright, executive director of the Development Authority of the North Country.

Mr. Owens said he urged a “fair deal for both sides” and did not hear back from Mr. Flick.

“He seemed perfectly amenable to this,” Mr. Owens said. “I’m very much in favor of compromise.”

Mr. Owens’s interest revolves around the development’s importance to meeting Fort Drum’s housing demand, a key element in the Army’s decisions about how many soldiers to station at specific posts.

He is also a lawyer who has negotiated PILOT agreements in the past, and he said that mixed feelings about giving tax breaks to corporations are always part of the picture.

In casting doubt on the agreement — the fine details of which had yet to be submitted by the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency — some board members questioned why the developer should receive a big tax break. A consultant told the school board that the PILOT’s payment of around $1 million over 10 years would pale in comparison to the $1 million additional annual cost of handling a projected increase in students.

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