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River district deal means $3.7M for Saratoga County

Credit settlement to cover tax arrears

Wednesday, February 13, 2013
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— Saratoga County will be getting a $3.7 million credit as part of the pending settlement over the financing of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District.

“Everyone else is making a payment. We will be getting a credit,” said County Attorney Stephen Dorsey.

The county board’s Law and Finance Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved the deal, which will settle years of argument between the agency that manages Great Sacandaga Lake and the five downstream counties over what financial responsibility they bear for the district.

The Board of Supervisors will vote Feb. 26. Because its meeting is so late in the month, Dorsey said Saratoga will probably be the last county to approve the settlement.

Albany and Rensselaer legislators approved the settlement this week, and Warren and Washington counties are in the process of getting approvals.

The agreement involves Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Warren and Washington counties, the five counties that the river district starting billing for its operating costs in 2010, after a federal court said it couldn’t bill downstream hydro-electric producers.

Regulating district officials argued that they could bill the counties because they are the ones that primarily benefit from the district’s flood-control efforts. The district was formed over 80 years ago to manage the flow of the Sacandaga River, as a way of controlling flooding along the Hudson River. The Conklingville Dam in Hadley is its primary asset, along with the Great Sacandaga Lake behind it, which has become a year-round recreation destination.

The counties sued over the legality of the bills, but the state courts ruled against the counties. Last May, the Appellate Division upheld the legality of the bills, but said the state should also pay a share of the district’s expenses. The settlement is based on that ruling.

Under the settlement, the district will receive a total of $3.5 million to settle the last three years of unpaid assessments. Albany County will pay $1.2 million; Rensselaer, $634,000; Warren County, $284,000; and Washington County, $161,000.

Saratoga would pay $1.2 million, but is getting a credit instead, because the district owes the county money for taxes it hasn’t paid.

Going forward, the district will bill the counties $2,994,100 per year through 2018. The breakdown will be: Albany and Saratoga, $1.03 million each; Rensselaer, $542,000; Warren, $243,000; and Washington, $138,000.

Saratoga County will get a credit because the regulating district, due to its financing crisis, stopped paying its property taxes in Fulton and Saratoga counties in 2010. Most of the settlement money paid to the district will go toward paying those back taxes.

As a matter of routine, Fulton and Saratoga counties compensated the local towns and school districts around Great Sacandaga Lake for the unpaid property taxes, so the unpaid taxes are now owed to the counties.

Fulton County has a separate legal proceeding against the district, seeking payment of more than $1.7 million. A judge has sided with the county, and settlement money will pay that bill.

Saratoga County officials said the district owes the county more than $3.7 million.

“In lieu of paying the district’s assessments, the county will be taking a credit against the amount owed by the district to the county for delinquent taxes,” according to a memorandum provided to supervisors during Wednesday’s committee vote.

The district will also make a $500,000 payment to the county by the end of June, Dorsey said, to reduce the amount of the credit. The county is expected to have a credit lasting through mid-2015.

Under the settlement, the state is to pay a 22 percent share of future district assessments, based on the amount of state-owned property in the downstream area.

 
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