Sunoco, El Paso Settlements Going to State for Approval This Week
The property tax disputes over the value of the Eagle Point refinery complex could be one step closer to resolution later this week.
After two attempts to get $33 million in tax refunding bonds considered by the state went unheard, West Deptford officials are hoping the proverbial third time is the charm.
The state Local Finance Board (LFB) is set to consider the bonds, which would pay out settlements to Sunoco and Coastal/El Paso on more than two decades’ worth of disputed property taxes at the Eagle Point refinery complex, as part of its June meeting on Wednesday.
The official consideration comes after two months of fits and starts—the bonds were on April’s LFB agenda, only to get pulled ahead of a judge’s call on an ultimately successful lawsuit against the township committee, and never made the May agenda.
It also comes as a potential trial looms, as Mayor Ray Chintall cautioned after making the announcement Thursday night.
Attorneys for both the township and Sunoco met with tax court Judge Patrick DeAlmeida at the beginning of the month, when the trial was slated to begin, to stave off any official action until the LFB moves on the bonds and the township either approves or shoots down the bond refunding ordinance on a final vote.
“The judge has not formally adjourned the case,” Chintall said. “He is carrying this case day-to-day.”
But it appears July 5 is the drop-dead date—if the LFB grants approval, that would be the first opportunity for the township committee to consider the second reading of the bond ordinance.
And unlike the first round back in April, the committee won’t be able to push the deal through on a simple majority—the three Republicans who voted to approve the deals will have to convince one of the Democrats on the committee to switch from a no vote, as the bond ordinance requires a supermajority for final passage.
Otherwise, it seems at least the Sunoco deal, if not both settlements, will fall apart, and Chintall said there’s only one option from there.
“(DeAlmeida) is going to take us right to court,” he said.
The Republicans have faced sharp criticism from the Democrats on the settlements since the full details came out with the passage of the settlement deals back in mid-April, and they got more of that from a partisan crowd at the township committee meeting.
William Gigliotti, a former refinery worker who was a candidate to replace former Mayor Anna Docimo, pressed the Republicans on the value of the plant, noting Sunoco had built new units in the refinery, and said more should be done to keep the oil giant accountable.
“The company is greedy,” he said.
Chintall deflected that, bringing up an argument the Republicans have made repeatedly—that the courts will likely peg the value of the refinery to its selling price, which was $111 million back in 2004.
“I hear you, but when that goes into court, that judge isn’t looking at $5 gas—he’s looking at the law,” Chintall said.
The committee also took questions from James Mehaffey, the former police chief and current vice president of the school board, as to whether the township committee planned to sit down with the schools about the settlement’s effects.
The school district, like the township, had a massive hole blown in its budget this year, largely on the drop in property values around town, and could lose even more next year, given the settlement drops the refinery’s assessment from $153 million down to $100 million.