Officials unsure of next step after lake district fails to meet tax deadline

By JAIME STUDD

For the Recorder

JOHNSTOWN -- Another deadline has come and gone and Fulton County is still short more than $1.6 million in delinquent property and school taxes owed by the Hudson River Black River Regulating District. Moreover, county officials say they are not clear what legal options are available to force the district to pay up.

"The deadline was the 28th. There's still no check that I know of," said Fulton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael Gendron. "It's come and gone and I don't know what the next step is because we've already pleaded our case and the Supreme Court judge has ruled. What other steps does [Fulton County Supreme Court Judge Richard' Aulisi have?"

On May 24, Fulton County initiated an Article 78 proceeding against both the HRBRRD and the state of New York in an attempt to recover nearly $720,000 owed in town and county property taxes for the current years, as well as more than $940,000 the county was forced to pay to the Northville, Mayfield and Broadalbin-Perth school districts for the 2011-12 school year to cover the regulating district's delinquency.

On Aug. 2, Aulisi ruled in favor of the county, naming both the regulating district as a whole, as well as its individual board members, as responsible for complying with the order and gave them 10 days to make the payment. That deadline was later extended to Sept. 28.

Regulating district executive director Mike Clark said the taxes will likely remain unpaid, regardless of any legal action, because the district simply does not have enough funds to cover the hefty bill.

"As soon as we're able to pay, we will pay. Fulton County is at the top of the list as far as bills to be paid," Clark said. "The first $1.6 million in the checking account is going to go to cover those tax bills. Beyond that, I'm not sure what else we can do."

Clark said the regulating district's ability to pay depends on the outcome of its legal battle to levy taxes against the counties of Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Warren and Washington for the flood control measures provided by the regulating district around Great Sacandaga Lake.

The district was seeking approximately $4.5 million and won its original case.

A subsequent appeal on the part of the counties, however, resulted in the court ordering the district to recalculate its apportionment methods to account for state-owned land.

Clark said board members are finalizing that reapportionment.

"There was a grievance held at the last Hudson River meeting. The counties brought some points and so the board didn't complete the grievance hearing so that we could look at the data. We hope to resolve that apportionment and have a final apportionment in, hopefully, by the November board meeting," Clark said. "We're checking some of the data that the counties have raised a flag on, nothing significant, but it does affect the New York state share."

Gendron said he has not yet heard from Fulton County attorney Arthur Spring regarding the matter and is left with a number of questions.

"All our committees met last week and I attended all of them. He would have given an update or a briefing to the finance committee, which he did not. He may, however, on Tuesday brief the full board," Gendron said. "He may come in and make a public statement, but, to my knowledge, he is not on the agenda for the full board meeting on Tuesday."