By STEVE JONES Staff writer

Members of the Common Council considered pushing for more money, but eventually approved a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program for the second of three phases of renovation work at Liberty Gardens Wednesday.

The council voted 6-0 in favor of the deal as proposed at its Wednesday meeting. The vote followed a work session in which some members repeated a previous inquiry about whether the $300 payment per unit in the 50-unit phase of work. Representatives for the project — a collaboration between complex owner Rome Housing Authority and its Albany-based manager and partner Omni Housing Development — said an increase in the payment would require substantial reworking of the funding plan and a new presentation to possible private financiers.

"Is there flexibility there?" asked Councilor Frank R. Anderson, R-5, so project officials. "Is $350 rigid?" Some councilors were pondering a $450-per-unit deal. "I’d had to see this project done in because of $7,500," said Councilor Louis J. DiMarco Jr., D-7. The original proposal would mean $15,000 a year for the city — $300 per unit for the 50 units. An increase to $450 per unit would have bumped that up to $22,500.

One key for the city is that all the PILOT money is new for Rome’s coffers, as the complex has never been subject to property taxes before. So, the three-phase project, at $300 per unit for all 180 units, would mean a total of $1.62 million over a 30-year period. The first phase will generate $702,000 over 30 years, the second phase would generate $450,000 and the third phase would generate $468,000 if that PILOT is approved when that phase is close to starting.

The complex at Liberty and Levitt streets is undergoing a massive transformation. A number of units are being removed to make room for expanded existing units, and a group of new apartments are being built to replace those, since the complex will start and end with 180 units. Phase one is ongoing. Funding for the second phase is being arranged. The entire project will take about five years to seven years.

The council also set a public hearing for a proposal to establish a property tax benefit for Cold War veterans in Rome. The council will hold a hearing at 6:55 p.m. on Wednesday, May 9 — five minutes before its regular meeting that night — in the council chambers at City Hall.

The council is considering an exemption covering only city taxes and not school taxes or special assessments. The county already has a similar exemption for county taxes. The proposed local law is a 10-year exemption for Cold War veterans or their unremarried spouses for their primary residence for 10 percent of a property’s assessed value up to $6,000. A Cold War veteran in this case would be one who served on active duty with the U.S. Armed Forces between Sept. 2, 1945 to Dec. 26, 1991, and was honorably discharged. A veteran with a service-connected disability would get an additional exemption of half the disability rating up to $30,000. It would save veterans an estimated $88, but is meant more as an acknowledgement of service "for people who deserve it," said Councilor Anderson, R-5, who is co-sponsoring the legislation with Council President John J. Mazzaferro.

The council also gave its approval of the plan to out a Social Security Administration satellite office in City Hall, which will be in the Parks and Recreation Department in Room 2D on the second floor. Starting Wednesday, May 2, the office will be open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. This is meant to partially offset the closure of the regular Rome office tomorrow. It is being consolidated with the Utica office.