One of the largest community gatherings happened at Fredonia State University earlier this month when residents rallied by the thousands to show support for the $500 million repowering of the NRG Energy Inc. facility in Dunkirk.
While NRG makes the case for the plant's repowering due to reliability issues, residents were more apt to discuss the facility's economic impact. It is the largest taxpayer, though it is on a payment in lieu of taxes plan, and contributes millions to the city, its school district and Chautauqua County.
It also provides some of the region's highest-paying jobs. If the repowering is approved, it could bring with it some 500 construction jobs to the region.
There has never been such a large development plan proposed in this county.
But if the state Public Service Commission does not approve the repowering, residents have been warned of the severe consequences that loom, most of them being the high taxes.
While that may be the case for Chautauqua County and the city schools, which has already said it would have to lay off nearly 60 teachers, that is almost out of the question for the city of Dunkirk. The last time the NRG plant was on the tax rolls, the city of Dunkirk was dangerously close to being at the "tax limit."
The "tax limit," according to the state comptroller's Web site is "a legal limit on the authority of cities, as well as counties and villages, to impose property taxes." This limitation is spelled out in the state Constitution.
"Cities that have exhausted over 80 percent of their tax limit are in a caution zone, while those over 90 percent are in a danger zone," the site notes.
Dunkirk is a "danger zone."
So while the tax-rate hype may be likely for the schools and county, the city is already near the maximum with the plant in operation. Without the facility, the complicated equation likely takes Dunkirk over the tax limit.
According to the state Constitution, that is against the law.