Plattsburgh Town Officials Reject Plattsburgh Mayor’s Offer To Settle Lawsuit
The city of Plattsburgh and the town of Plattsburgh remain at odds over a Payment in Lieu of Taxes Agreement from 1992. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley has the latest.
On September 12, city of Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read sent a settlement offer to Town of Plattsburgh regarding a 2018 lawsuit the city had filed. On Wednesday, the six members of Town Board published an open letter rejecting a proposed agreement between the city and town to end a lawsuit in which the city claims breach of contract in a 1992 Payment in Lieu of Taxes Agreement.
Town officials note that the mayor wants a special tax exemption to eliminate taxes on any property the city owns in the town. The town’s budget is based on sales taxes and has special assessment districts for highway, water, ambulance and other services. Town board member Tom Wood says the city’s offer would unreasonably harm jurisdictions such as schools and fire departments. “They want to be exempt from our taxes and it would only cost the Town of Plattsburgh because we don’t have a town tax. These kinds of things have ripple effects. If we reduce the taxes to zero what happens to the school systems? In addition the ambulance and fire districts would not be getting their tax because basically the taxes that the city pays to the town are for the special districts not for our general budget or anything like that. But that really goes to the core of the problem which is why should we reduce the taxes to zero? The city pays taxes on other properties throughout the county that they own.”
Mayor Read also offered to provide water to the town. While town officials say they appreciate the thought, they point out that the town is close to completion of a $24 million dollar capital improvement project to upgrade the town’s water infrastructure. Meg LeFevre says the Town Board is unified in its decision to reject the offer. “We are a board. It’s not a supervisor against a mayor or how the public I think has been perceiving it. This is our town board and we’re standing up for the taxpayers of our town and we just need to agree to drop the lawsuits and move on from there. From my perspective it’s taken the wind out of a lot of really positive stuff that we could be focusing on.”
Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Michael Cashman says the council united in finding the lawsuit frivolous and an acceptable agreement would be dropping it. “The facts haven’t changed. If they believe that they have merit then they’re going to pursue the lawsuit. We don’t believe that there’s merit there because I think the facts are there that this doesn’t need to be pursued any further.”
But Mayor Read says documents the city has obtained show the lawsuit is valid. “It’s been difficult to get the documents to really explain what has happened in this. But we’ve got many of them now after two or so years of trying to get these documents. So we know very clearly what happened and it has all confirmed what we think had happened. So we know that there’s an issue there to be resolved. We just hope to resolve it in the most amicable way.”
Read says the town didn’t really respond to the offer because it won’t discuss any options except dropping the lawsuit. “I didn’t see in there from their part ideas to continue discussion but I’m not going to stop trying. To me this is a business transaction. I’m still hopeful that we can get to the collaborative approach.”
FULL TEXT - TOWN OF PLATTSBURGH RESPONSE TO CITY OF PLATTSBURGH:
This is in response to an offer made by the Mayor of the City of Plattsburgh to the Town of Plattsburgh.
In a Press-Republican article dated July 31, 2018, Mayor Colin Read said, “Did you know the city is the largest property owner in the town, by far? I calculate the city owns about 6 or 7 percent of the town’s land and pays taxes on it all.”
His statement is false. The Town of Plattsburgh Board wishes to set the record straight. This fact and more must be acknowledged and contended with as we work to make our community whole.
Clinton County is the largest landowner in the Town. In a listing of top taxpayers in the town, the City of Plattsburgh does not rank in the top five. The City pays the Town $62,587.00 per year. The entirety of those dollars goes to essential services like ambulance, highway, lighting, water and sewer, all of which the city widely benefits from and in major areas could not function without.
The city recently purchased more land in the Town paying well above the assessed value both times. Now Mayor Read wants the town to absolve the City’s obligation to pay landowner taxes. The Mayor wants the Town Board to reduce the City’s taxes to zero along with all the other properties they own in the Town.
In the proposed agreement, the Mayor reasons that this special tax exemption serves a proper public service. In truth it would subsidize city taxes from the pockets of town taxpayers. It also would reduce the amount paid to other taxing jurisdictions, which we have no control over, during a 20 year period by the following amounts:
School Districts: Beekmantown Central $3,159,380; Peru Central $1,189,050;
Saranac Central $2,271,240; Volunteer Fire Departments: Morrisonville $33, 460; Cumberland Head $17,480; District #3 $200,540; South Plattsburgh $146,120; Cadyville $183,140; and Clinton County $2,100,750. The above numbers are based upon 2019 with no increases.
The Mayor offers to “provide water to the Town at favorable terms.” We appreciate the offer, but as the Mayor knows, the Town has embarked on a $24 million-dollar Capital Plan, including a new well and water tank upgrades to dramatically update capacity to deliver water to its residents, and provide water to surrounding towns. The Town is better positioned to provide water to the city more efficiently and economically since the City’s system is in dire need of expensive repairs.
Less than a decade ago the town faced its own fiscal challenges. We pulled back on spending and tightened up in smart ways. Solvency isn’t just collecting enough cash to pay your bills; it’s collecting enough to plan for future needs. And it isn’t achieved through lengthy, expensive litigation. These feuds will never lead to a prosperous future. We can only put the pieces of our community back together through factual conversation, intelligent planning, and balanced vision.
Cooperation is implemented every day by dedicated town and city employees who cross the town/city boundaries to get the job done.
The lawsuit which was commenced by the City against the Town is frivolous. In consultation with our legal counsel we remain firm in this position. The Town is willing to cooperate with the City but is unwilling to agree to any terms and condition that are not in the interest of its taxpayers.
The suit is costing considerable amounts of money to both City and Town taxpayers and the cost will continue to escalate for the foreseeable future. This money could be better spent on useful projects. We believe the solution is simple; both parties should agree to terminate the lawsuit.
Once again we invite the elected officials in the city to join us at a joint session with a focus to set our intentions on a healthier partnership moving forward. Together we can usher in a new era of Town and City cooperation, one in which activities mutually benefit both parties. This will not only help the Town and City but will be an economic boon to the entire area.
Town of Plattsburgh Town Board
Michael S. Cashman