Schenectady council declines to pay county over unpaid taxes

Tuesday, December 3, 2013
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— The Schenectady City Council isn’t budging on its contention that it doesn’t have to pay the county for taxes unpaid by city property owners.

The council met behind closed doors Monday to discuss another proposed compromise from the county on the issue. Although council members did not publicly discuss the details, they said the county had proposed that the city pay a certain amount of money in exchange for the county dropping its lawsuit over the issue.

After a lengthy discussion, the council refused the latest offer.

Mayor Gary McCarthy indicated he was not in favor of their decision.

“They’ve taken a position,” he said after the meeting. “The corporation counsel will relay it, and we’ll see what happens.”

Councilman Carl Erikson, the Finance Committee chairman, said he saw no reason to pay the county for the portion of its property taxes that go unpaid.

“I don’t think we owe them money,” he said.

The county sued when the city canceled a long-standing agreement in which the city made the county whole on property taxes. That meant that the city sent the county a check for upward of $3 million each year, paying for property owners who did not pay.

In cases where homes owners simply refuse to pay their taxes, the city forecloses on their properties and tries to recoup its loses.

County officials, and the mayor, have argued that foreclosing will be much more complicated if the property owes money to both the city and the county. Only one of the two can foreclose, which creates questions: Should the entities share the costs of foreclosure and the possible revenue from later auctioning off the property? Who pays if the property needs maintenance or demolition?

But Erikson said he was not bothered by those problems.

He said the county should feel free to foreclose on any building that owes county taxes.

“If the county wants to take and run with it, it can,” he said.

He added that most of the properties were worthless and that it wouldn’t be hard to work on some sort of shared-responsibility deal.

“There’s ways to work things out, going forward,” he said.

However, some council members are open to paying the city, Erikson said.

“That’s where we’re split,” he said, but added, “There’s not support for the county’s current offer.”

In other business, the council decided in committee to give the golf course concession contract to the current concessionaire, June Poltroak.

Poltroak was outbid by $10,000 by another restaurateur, but the council committee chose her anyway after receiving an outpouring of support from her customers.

Both bidders were experienced restaurateurs, and some council members had indicated they would support hiring the newcomer because she would pay the city more.

Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said the additional revenue was “a very important factor.”

“I look at this as a business decision,” she said.

But Councilwoman Marion Porterfield, who had initially also supported the higher bidder, said she was won over by Poltroak’s customers.

“I listen to the community that’s going to be affected by it,” she said, adding that she was worried the city would lose customers if it switched concessionaires.

Poltroak said she couldn’t pay the city more because she wanted to continue her practice of lowering her prices for tournaments. The tournament price usually includes breakfast and lunch.

“I can’t overbid on that, because we can’t deliver,” she said.

Her customers said she was the best concessionaire they’ve seen at the golf course.

“It’s like a country club atmosphere for us,” said golfer Dennis Galardy.

Golfer Tony Ward added that Poltroak was able to handle huge crowds, quickly getting drinks and food to 50 or more players after their league games.

And the food is good, golfer Grant Ward said.

“We’ve been golfing there for years, and up until June and [Manager] Dave [Tedesco] took it over, we never stayed. The food was awful,” he said.

He predicted that many of the golfers would have stopped meeting for drinks after a game if Poltroak lost the contract.

The council will make a final vote next Monday.

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December 3, 2013
7:38 a.m.
wmarincic says...

I agree with them. The food is good the service is good and the prices are more than reasonable. Keep June and Dave.

December 3, 2013
9:25 a.m.

Seems to me, for 10K, it should be tried for a year rather than giving into two subjective observations.

December 3, 2013
8 p.m.
schdyres says...

Let's hope the Council stands firm with Erickson and refuses to let the county bully us again. I fear the City Council "rubber stamps" will again prevail and not act in the interest of city taxpayers. The Gazette reporter needed to query every member on where they stand at this point. And what's up with the city reps.on the SchenectadyCounty Legislature-- are they loudly advocating for their constituents?? Let's find out Gazette reporters!

December 3, 2013
9:48 p.m.
birmy says...

It appears that the City's financial problems will be shouldered more by the County if Schenectady does not have to make the County whole for taxes not paid by City homeowners. If you live in Schenectady you want this change as it could conceivably ease financial issues in the City. If you are a County taxpayer who does not reside in Schenectady you want nothing to do with this change because your tax rate while lower than Schenectady doesn't help much because your tax bill might be much higher because your home is worth more. I am not sure if there is a long term solution proposed by the Schenectady City Council. They want to share the pain.

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