Deal possible in counties, river district dispute
GREAT SACANDAGA LAKE Five counties downstream of the Great Sacandaga Lake are in the process of considering settlements in long-running litigation over the financing of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District.
The flood control district started billing the downstream counties for millions of dollars in operating costs in 2010, leading to litigation that’s been going on since.
A settlement under which the counties will pay at least some money to the district is now being considered by the counties.
The Albany County Legislature approved a settlement agreement Monday under which the county will pay the district $3.2 million. Rensselaer County’s legislature was scheduled to act tonight on its piece of the settlement, for a smaller amount.
The matter isn’t currently on the agenda of Saratoga County’s Law and Finance Committee, which meets Wednesday in Ballston Spa, but could be added.
If all the counties approve the settlement and agree to pay the district for its flood protection services, much of the money would eventually go to Fulton County, which estimates the regulating district owes it $1.7 million in back taxes.
“It looks like we should have an excellent opportunity to have this resolved,” Fulton County Attorney Arthur Spring said in December, when word of settlement discussions first emerged.
State Supreme Court Judge Richard Aulisi has ordered the district to pay Fulton County the taxes it is owed, but it has not yet done so.
District officials did not return a call Tuesday.
The litigation stems from a 2008 federal court decision that created a financing crisis for the district. That decision rescinded the district’s ability to bill downstream hydroelectric facilities for its operating expenses. To replace the lost income, the district billed Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Warren and Washington counties, reasoning that these counties benefit from the district’s flood-control efforts.
The regulating district was formed in 1930 to manage the dam at Conklingville, which controls the Sacandaga River and can be used to limit flooding along the Hudson River.
The counties sued, saying those bills were illegal, but a state Supreme Court judge in Saratoga County ruled against the counties and a midlevel appellate court upheld that ruling last May. The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, however, said the state also must pay some money, based on the amount of state-owned property in the five downstream counties.
HRBRRD sought to collect about $4.5 million annually from the counties. It 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 figures were based on the value of flood plain property in each county.
With the bills remaining unpaid while court action was pending, the district has defaulted on property taxes it owed municipalities and school districts around Great Sacandaga Lake — property taxes that are a big part of the regulating district’s operating expenses. Fulton County eventually paid the local school districts, and made its claim against the district to bereimbursed.