Handsome Lake assessment hearing set April 25
The Derrick, 4/4/02 By JUDITH O. ETZEL

A special thank you goes out to The Derrick for allowing this story to be posted

Photo by Jerry Sowden - Handsome Lake Energy in Rockland Township is hoping to lower its assessed $28 million tax burden.

Handsome Lake Energy, a gas-fired power plant in Rockland Township, will make a formal pitch to have its assessment and corresponding real estate tax levy cut at a public hearing April 25.

The 11 a.m. hearing will be held in the Venango County courthouse annex before the three-member Board of Assessment Appeals. It will be the single largest tax appeal heard in the county since a county-wide reassessment was conducted a year ago.

The outcome could have substantial impacts on three taxing bodies - the county, Cranberry Township and the Cranberry Area School District - that were eyeing a potential windfall in real estate taxes this year.

The reassessment put a market value of $28,086,970 on the energy plant, constructed last year on a 63-acre tract in Rockland Township. The property previously was used as a hunting camp. The natural gas-fired electric generation plant provides power to customers up and down the East Coast during peak usage periods. The plant, built at a cost of $100 million, is owned by Constellation Power Development Inc. of Baltimore.

It was the construction figure that triggered the $28 million assessment figure for Handsome Lake. The plant has four buildings, three of which enclose Pratt & Whitney engines used to generate power at the 250 megawatt facility. Three people are employed at Handsome lake.

At that assessment level, Handsome Lake would generate annual taxes of $348,278 for the school district, $143,805 for the county, and $29,013 for the township.

Handsome Lake and its parent company argue the assessment should be based on real property and property improvements, such as buildings, and should not include equipment. Dave Sullivan, plant manager at Rockland, said "movable machinery" is not assessed and therefore not taxable.

The appeal is based on that assumption, first publicly made in February 2000 by a Constellation Power official. The valuation at that time was pegged at between "$5 and $15 million," figures that did not include equipment.