Glouco, W. Deptford disagree over share of payments

Posted: May 08, 2014

WEST DEPTFORD The Gloucester County freeholders on Wednesday are scheduled to discuss "possible litigation" against West Deptford Township following a dispute over payments related to a new power station.

County officials say they have not received payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) this year or last for the site of an energy station on Paradise Road.

The LS Power station, a natural-gas facility, is to be completed this summer. Ground was broken in 2012, with local and state dignitaries hailing the project as a provider of jobs and energy. The company bought 300 acres from the county for more than $14 million and agreed to pay about $107 million in PILOT charges over 30 years.

The agreement stipulated that the county would receive 10 percent of that money, according to township and county officials. It was signed in October 2011, a month before Republicans gained the majority on the township committee after years of Democratic control. The freeholder board is controlled by Democrats.

Brandon Umba, West Deptford's acting administrator, who was hired in January, said Tuesday that he was reviewing the agreement because the town's administration is now interpreting state law to mandate the county portion of a PILOT agreement to be 5 percent and saw "little wiggle room."

"In light of these facts, I will be taking a closer look into this matter and other aspects of this agreement, to ensure the township's interests are protected," Umba wrote in a February e-mail sent to Gary Schwarz, the county treasurer, who had inquired about past-due payments.

"The provision in the contract says that they're entitled to 10 percent. . . . Under law, they're only entitled to 5 percent," said Mark Cimino, the township's redevelopment attorney, noting that the PILOTs are set to increase annually. "West Deptford isn't going to be a bank for the county," he said.

E-mails between the township and county show the two also disagreed on whether certain property taxes were to be deducted from the county's portion.

Chad Bruner, the county's administrator, said the county wanted what was agreed upon. Last year, the county was supposed to receive about $100,000. He said the county, which had purchased the land previously, helped spearhead the project.

"I'm not interested in renegotiating the terms of agreement," he said. "You sign a contract, you sign an agreement."

The county's $208 million budget approved last month includes revenues based on the 10 percent.

Lisa Ryan, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs, said that state law requires that 5 percent of a PILOT go to the county but that "it could be more at the discretion of the grantor."

Umba said he was surprised to learn that the freeholders' agenda calls for a closed session Wednesday regarding a potential suit. In April, he said, he requested a meeting with Schwarz and legal representation for both sides.

"I never heard back," Umba said. On Tuesday, he said, attempts to reach several county officials were unsuccessful.


afichera@philly.com

856-779-3917 @AJFichera

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