The lights at Entergy’s nuclear plant in Buchanan aren’t -- figuratively -- set to go off for another four years, but for some, the switch has already been flipped.
The Hendrick Hudson School District -- and the 2,400 students and 17,000 residents it serves – is already feeling the effects of plans to close Indian Point, Superintendent Joseph Hochreiter testified in Albany this week.
Hochreiter sits on the newly formed Indian Point Closure Task Force, organized by the state Department of Public Service.
(State Sen. Terrence Murphy, R-Yorktown, has scheduled a public hearing on the closure for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 2, at the Local 21 Plumbers and Steamfitters' union hall, 1024 McKinley St., Peekskill.)
Hochreiter told lawmakers Tuesday that Hendrick Hudson had literally been within two hours of announcing a $14 million capital improvements plan on Monday, Jan. 9 when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the Indian Point deal.
The plant is set to gradually close down from 2020 to 2021.
Entergy’s 10-year PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement with the district runs through 2025. Next year, the district gets $23.6 million. The amount ratchets up until it reaches $29.7 million in PILOT’s tenth year.
That represents, Hochreiter said, 30 percent of the district’s revenue. Without it, school taxes could rise as much as 13 percent, he testified.
The district, which needs to repair its aging schools and bring educational offerings up to date, technology-wise, had worked long and hard to bounce back with a new plan after a capital improvements referendum was soundly defeated by voters in 2011.
They surveyed community stakeholders to determine its priorities for projects and had been set to hold public tours of school buildings.
But once its banks and bonding counsel got wind of the potential black hole in the revenue stream, they warned the district that its bond rating was at risk, Hochereiter said. A lower bond rating could affect interest rates and the district’s ability to borrow money.
In light of that, the superintendent said, the Board of Education decided to put the plan on the back burner, at least until it gets more information.
One of the big “asks” during this scary period of adjustment is that the state backs up the school district and tells lenders that it is “good for the money,” he explained.
Parents, taxpayers, and educators need “immediate reassurance that kids’ programs will not be hatcheted and that taxes won’t go up 13 percent a year because” of the shutdown, Hochreiter told committee members.
The district has already cut costs by addressing transportation issues, installing solar energy panels, increasing class sizes, and cutting staff through attrition, the superintendent said.
Such a big revenue gap cannot be filled, Hochreiter said, "by cuts and by taxes alone."
The community has told Hochreiter, she said, that it's willing to "pay a little bit more" as long as the district continue the belt-tightening and the state “is also diligent” in its efforts to find some “stop-gap” funding while "we figure out what options exist for the property," as Knickerbocker and Puglisi also suggested.
One of those options may be redevelopment, he said.
In a statement following the meeting, Hochreiter said he was “honored and humbled to represent our school community and share our unique perspective with key government officials.”
The new task force will address employment and property tax impacts, develop new economic opportunities and work force retraining, and monitor compliance with the closure agreement.