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Watertown school board passes PILOT

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After weeks of discussion on Morgan Management’s proposed tax break for an apartment development on County Route 202, the Watertown City School District’s Board of Education passed the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement in a 4-3 vote.

Peter E. Monaco, Patrick J. Powers, Kenneth F. Netto and board President Michael R. Flick voted in favor of the PILOT at Tuesday night’s board meeting at Case Middle School’s auditorium. Cynthia H. Bufalini, Deltra B. Willis and Yvonne E. Gebo opposed it.

Mrs. Bufalini voted in favor of COR Development’s PILOT proposal in late December, but said she did not feel Morgan Management’s proposal would benefit the community. She said COR was a name she has seen in the community before; it already has made an investment in the area.

“I felt that COR Development had already made an impact on our community,” she said. “I said, at the time, that it wouldn’t create a precedent. I think my constituents would not benefit from this. I can’t vote yes if there’s not any promise to come.”

The district was the last taxing jurisdiction to vote on the proposal. Both the town of Watertown and Jefferson County approved it in March.

Morgan is proposing a 394-unit apartment complex. Under the agreement, Morgan will pay $2,122,468, or 50 percent of full taxation, over the first 10 years.

At the end of the 10th year, the company will pay more than $231,000 to Jefferson County and the school district. It then will pay taxes at the full-assessment rate, expected to total about $465,000. The agreement will last for 15 years, with tax increases capped at 1 percent for years 11 through 15.

During past discussions on the PILOT, board members worried about the financial and educational implications of gaining as many as 500 students, as district Superintendent Terry N. Fralick implied in past interviews.

“I think we had to look at the worst-case scenario, because it’s our due diligence,” Mr. Powers said.

Others felt it would serve the community better economically in the long run.

“As more information became available, the urgency of housing, the project had to go through for the betterment of the community,” Mr. Monaco said. “Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.”

Mr. Flick said the decision Tuesday night was not easy for the board to make and created tension between board members as well as the administration.

“I hope we can move forward,’ he said.

He added the tension over the PILOT has affected even students at school, especially military students whose parents were returning home from Afghanistan.

“I felt there was more to gain by supporting it. It’s been a struggle,” he said. ”I think as the days went by and as more people realized where we were in our budget, we started to get comments that said, ‘Geez, we didn’t know.’”

He had discussions with Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy, who promised to visit the district to see how the state can help.

Mr. Fralick was unavailable to comment after the meeting and did not comment on the PILOT during the superintendent’s report. In the past, he expressed concern that the district could not financially support the influx of students he is expecting.

The Community Rental Housing Committee recently approved $50,000 to fund a study for the district on the impacts of COR Development and Morgan Management tax breaks that will address some of the financial issues that have plagued the district since the PILOTs have been introduced. A timeline for the study has not been created.

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