Fulton County expects regulating district to pay up
Downstream counties still owe HRBRRD for flood control
JOHNSTOWN Fulton County could receive $1.7 million in back taxes owed it by the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District by the end of February, according to Fulton County Attorney Arthur Spring.
Repayment, however, is contingent on approval by the governing boards of five downstream counties that have been assessed flood-control protection fees by the regulating district. That approval apparently has not happened yet, and the attorney representing the five counties did not return a call seeking comment for this story.
“It looks like we should have an excellent opportunity to have this resolved,” Spring said. “They [the counties] have not got 100 percent agreement, but they are close. It would all have to go back to their boards for finalization.”
Spring said if the regulating district does not make a payment by the end of February, Fulton County will “go back to the drawing board to see what procedures we have to enforce” a ruling issued in August by State Supreme Court Judge Richard Aulisi.
Aulisi ordered the regulating district to pay Fulton County $1.7 million in back taxes within 10 days, but later extended the deadline when the agency said it did not have the money. The district said it would use the downstream fees to pay its property tax bills. The regulatory district billed Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Warren and Washington counties for the first time this year after winning an appeal of its right to do so.
Saratoga County officials had no comment on the pending agreement. Saratoga’s situation is a bit different from that of Fulton County. Saratoga will both receive money from the regulating district for making municipalities whole on back taxes and owe the regulating district money under the new fee assessment. A Saratoga official said the final agreement should take these factors into account.
Several of the counties had thought to appeal the appellate court’s May decision, but Spring said the unanimous ruling left the five counties no choice but to work with the state in figuring out the ratio by which they should pay the district.
The regulating district initially billed Albany County $1.7 million, Saratoga County $1.3 million, Rensselaer County $961,000, Warren County $297,000 and Washington County $175,000. The appellate court ruling said some of that cost should be borne by the state because of the flood protection provided to state property.
years of conflict
The road to the $1.7 million was a long one involving several legal battles. It began in 2008 when a federal court overturned the regulating district’s 80-year-old practice of charging downstream hydroelectric plants for most of its operating costs.
Two years later, the regulating district billed the five closest downstream counties $4.5 million for flood control services provided by the dam in Hadley. The counties then sued. A state Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit, and the counties appealed. They lost their appeal in May, resulting in the current situation.
Pleading poverty, the regulating district for several years defaulted on property taxes owed municipalities and school districts near the waterways. This left the counties to make them whole.
The regulating district last year liquidated some of its assets to cover several years’ worth of back taxes, but left unpaid 2011-2012 taxes to towns, villages and school districts.
Earlier this year, Fulton County filed an Article 78 proceeding against the regulating district, seeking to collect $720,000 the county paid to the towns and villages for 2012 taxes; $230,000 it paid to the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District; $372,000 paid to the Mayfield Central School District; and $338,000 paid to the Northville Central School District for 2011-2012 taxes.
The county had initially made whole only the towns and villages for the taxes, and not the school districts. It made the school districts whole in July after being ordered to do so by Aulisi. The school districts had forced the issue by filing an Article 78 proceeding of their own this year against the county.
The school districts took that same legal action last year when the regulatory district failed to pay taxes and the county refused to make the school districts whole. The difference last year was that the county joined with the school districts, paying for court costs. After they won, the regulating district liquidated assets to pay off the delinquent tax bills.
The regulating district was established in the 1920s to control flooding on the Hudson River. The Conkingville Dam, which holds back the Great Sacandaga Lake and allows the district to control the flow of the Sacandaga River, is one of its primary facilities.