JOHNSTOWN - The Fulton County Board of Supervisors on Monday voted to pay about $940,000 to three school district bordering the Great Sacandaga Lake to cover back taxes owed to them by the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District.
The 18-0 vote satisfies an order Thursday by state Supreme Court Justice Richard T. Aulisi. The board decided to make the payments to the Northville, Mayfield and Broadalbin-Perth central school districts after a closed executive session with County Attorney Arthur C. Spring.
On May 25, the three school districts issued an Article 78 proceeding against the county and Blodgett seeking back taxes owed.
The money will come out of the county fund balance, although county officials Monday were unsure of how much of that balance remains.
"We're a nation of laws and we have a process," Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael F. Gendron said afterward. "[But] the real focus should be on Hudson River's taxes."
Aulisi had ordered the county to within five days have county Treasurer Terry Blodgett make the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's 2011-12 delinquent school tax payments in these amounts: Mayfield Central School District - $372,036; Northville Central School District - $337,981; and Broadalbin-Perth Central School District - $230,169.
The board resolution passed Monday indicated the payments for the school districts are being be done "in this instance only" - something Gendron said was recommended by Spring.
Northville Central School District Superintendent Kathy Dougherty, who attended the session, said the county made the right decision.
"I'm very relieved and pleased that the board took what was clearly the directive of the judge and did so expeditiously," she said.
During the public-speaker portion of the meeting, the Johnstown resident told county supervisors the school districts' legal costs in this matter "could have been spent on children."
"I think it's a shame the school districts had to incur the legal fees of filing this Article 78 proceeding," Dougherty said.
Under state law, the county had been required to make the school districts whole after April 1 by covering property taxes owed. Gendron declined to say whether the county had a plan to cover the regulating district's back taxes if Aulisi hadn't ordered it.
"The real losers are all the taxpayers of Fulton County," Gendron said.
Aulisi's decision took county officials, such as County Attorney Arthur C. Spring, to task over the issue. State Real Property Tax Law requires the county to cover back taxes.
The judge noted the application by the school districts was returnable to his court June 25, and the county and Blodgett had until June 20 to serve an answer and supporting affidavits, but didn't.
Delinquent taxes owed by the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District to the districts has been an ongoing issue the last few years. The regulating district lost one of its main revenue sources in 2008, when a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled it no longer could charge fees to downstream hydropower companies. The latest legal entanglement involves the regulating district, which controls the Great Sacandaga Lake, being delinquent on 2012 county property taxes and 2011-12 school taxes.
The previous tax year, the districts, the county and the regulating district were involved in the same back-taxes issue.
Last August, the regulating district's board voted to liquidate more than $3 million from its Black River section and loan the money to the Hudson River section to fulfill a court order by Aulisi. He ordered the regulating district then to pay Fulton County the full amount due to it and the school districts. On Aug. 30, Blodgett paid those taxes.
Michael A. Clark, the regulating district's executive director, said Friday his agency is "closer" to having needed revenue to pay its back taxes. His board meets today.
Michael Anich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.