LAKE PLEASANT - A year after Fulton County successfully sued the agency that runs the Great Sacandaga Lake for two years' worth of back taxes, Hamilton County is prepared to follow its lead.
The Board of Supervisors this month authorized a lawsuit seeking three years of unpaid taxes totaling $120,000 from the cash-strapped Hudson River-Black River Regulating District, whose property includes portions of the Sacandaga River in Benson and Hope.
The county has covered the agency's tax liability since 2009, paying about $65,000 to the Northville Central School District and about $5,000 to Wells Central School. The county also covered $35,000 for municipal taxes in Hope and $14,000 for Benson.
The three-year total is far less than the $3 million for two years of back taxes awarded to Fulton County last summer. The total included more than $1.7 million for the Mayfield, Northville and Broadalbin-Perth school districts, but the court's decision set Hamilton County's action in motion.
"It certainly seemed wise to see what the judicial precedent was going to be for that matter, since it would certainly affect our matter," said Hamilton County Attorney Charles R. Getty Jr.
The regulating district, which lost its primary revenue stream in a court decision four years ago and is defending a challenge to a new potential revenue source, used reserves from the Black River portion of the agency to cover its 2010 and 2011 municipal taxes and its 2009-10 and 2010-11 school taxes to comply with a July judgment by state Supreme Court Justice Richard T. Aulisi.
The agency has not paid any 2012 local property taxes or 2011-12 school taxes. The Mayfield, Northville and Broadalbin-Perth school districts said in a news release last week they intend to sue Fulton County to recover the money.
Unlike Hamilton County and Saratoga County, Fulton County has not followed a law that calls for counties to cover unpaid school taxes. Mayfield is owed $372,036, Northville is owed $337,981 and Broadalbin-Perth is owed $230,170 for the 2011-12 school year.
Saratoga County also is owed millions in back taxes since 2009, including taxes it covered for Edinburg and Hadley-Luzerne schools. Edinburg Supervisor Jean Raymond said the county hasn't decided to take legal action yet.
"Having a judgment against an agency that has no money - what are we going to do?" she asked. "The issue has to be settled by the state of New York."
Hamilton County's resolution, which was unanimously approved, authorizes the county to hire attorney Peter G. Barber of Albany-based Murphy, Burns, Barber & Murphy, which filed last year's suit on behalf of Fulton County. Getty said the suit likely will be filed in the next month in state Supreme Court in Fulton County.
If the lawsuit is successful, Getty said he doesn't expect the court to order the regulating district to cover the county's attorney fees, which will be $200 per hour, up to $5,000, according to the resolution. He noted Aulisi did not award Fulton County legal fees.
Bill Pitcher is the city editor and can be reached at email@example.com. Richard Nilsen contributed to this story.