The Orangetown Town Board approved a tax settlement with Pfizer for 2006 and 2011 at Tuesday's regular meeting.
This is the first step in dealing with pending tax challenges by Wyeth Holdings, a subsidiary of Pfizer, for 2006-2010 regarding the drug company's Pearl River property. Rather than settle them all at once, they will be done over time to lessen the impact on taxpayers.
"The town is going to settle it evenly over the next five years," Orangtown Town Assessor Brian Kenney said.
The refund from Orangetown for 2006 will be approximately $2,355,980, to be paid initially by Rockland County, which will then collect the money from Orangetown in taxes.
"It is a lot of money," Kenney said. "I understand the concerns of our townspeople. The rationale behind this whole thing is we don’t want to have our largest taxpayer leave town. We all know what is going on up there. Some of the largest and newest buildings are vacant. The company hopefully will sell or lease to new tenants."
"We want to give them an incentive to do that. Taxes have been high here. They are comparing to other properties they have in the area and around the world. That was the basis for their decision to come and talk to us in terms of what they want."
The cost of a possible legal battle with Pfizer was also a factor. Previous tax challenges from the company when it was known as Wyeth were costly for Orangetown.
"Also, we are talking about trying to save taxpayers the price of litigation, appraisals and engineering we went through last time," Kenney said. "I know at one point when we had a special outside counsel it was in the vacinity of $40,000 per month for a long time.
"We wanted to do away with that and the company wanted to as well."
Residents of the Nanuet School District will feel the impact the most. The district reached its agreement with Pfizer in March.
"They are taking larger hit the first year than the town is," Kenney said. "They want to do that. This is voluntary. They have their own reasons."
Former Orangetown Town Councilwoman Eileen Larkin loudly questioned the settlement and grew angry when board members would not engage her in a debate during the public portion of the meeting. She said she was offended by the board's attitude toward her.
"Obnoxious men," she said as she walked off.
Councilman Denis Troy explained that if the public wants to engage the bourd in a discussion of items on the agenda, it should be done at workshop meetings. Public comment portions of regular board meetings such as Tuesday's are only meant to allow residents to comment.
"I am objecting to my fellow board members entering in a dialogue," Troy said.
Supervisor Paul Whalen has been supportive of a settlement, but also knew that it would be controversial and that town board members could suffer politically for approving it.
"This board had the courage to look at it not from a political point of view, but from point of what is best for the town, not to kick the can down the road to the next board or someone else who would deal with it," Whalen said. "In these instances with meters running constantly, this town could have had tremendous liability down the road. We could have risked the possibility of Pfizer demolishing those buildings and leaving.
"Because of the courage of this board, we have an agreement that will keep the town whole and the possibility that in the future, Pfizer will partner with other people in their industry or other industries and put that campus back on the road map and put the original 5,000 people back to work there at some point in time in the future."
Whalen said another key point in the agreement was the restriction that will restrict the type of residential housing that can be put on the property if Pfizer does decide to leave.
"Something very significant is no residential housing can go on this property for 20 years," Whalen said. "That’s in the documents. That’s one of the stipulations in the agreements we have signed. We will be able to control any type of housing that goes on that property. The only thing that would be allowed there is senior housing, over 55, which would have no significant effect on bringing children into the schools."
There are still elements of the deal to be settled, but getting all sides into an agreement is a key step.