JOHNSTOWN - State Supreme Court Justice Richard T. Aulisi has ordered the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District to pay Fulton County more than $1.66 million in unpaid county, town and school district taxes within 10 days, but the regulating district's director says the payment probably won't happen by the deadline.
The sum includes taxes owed to the Broadalbin-Perth, Mayfield and Northville central school districts for the 2011-12 school year, which the county paid to the districts last month to help keep them afloat - and 2012 county and town property taxes.
Aulisi's Aug. 2 court decision states that Hudson River-Black River Board Chairman David Berkstresser, First Vice Chairman Michael Austin, Second Vice Chairman Mark Finkle and board members Thomas Stover and Albert Hayes are responsible for the payment of the taxes within 10 days of receiving the notice.
Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead said the regulating district has to find some way to come up with the money, even if that includes borrowing it for the time being.
"The judge said that the board of directors of the regulating district have to find a solution," Stead said. "That would be up to them whether they would have to borrow money. I don't know what option the regulating district might choose, but I think the judge's decision was very clear that [the board members] have to comply with the law. And the law says they need to pay those taxes."
The regulating district, a state authority, manages the water level of the Great Sacandaga Lake and in turn controls downstream water levels. The district has had trouble making tax payments to local school districts and municipalities since a 2008 court order said the district could no longer charge downstream hydropower companies for its flood-control services. In 2010, the district began taxing five downstream counties: Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Warren and Washington. Those counties challenged the taxes, but courts have upheld the regulating district's right to collect them.
At its July 10 meeting, the district assessed amounts owed by the five counties from 2010-12 and for the 2012-13 fiscal year. HRBRRD Executive Director Michael Clark expects to get that money but not until after its Sept. 18 meeting, which will include a grievance hearing with representatives from the downstream counties.
"Until we receive payments of our assessments, it's difficult for us to do anything," Clark said. "We paid them last year after a very similar ruling, but there were still reserve funds in the Black River area of the regulating district that we were able to transfer. Those reserves don't exist anymore because they were used last year to pay the back taxes."
He said that what likely will happen is the deadline will pass without the district making the payments.
"I fully believe that at some point in the near future we will receive our assessments and we will be able to catch up all our tax bills and go on our way," Clark said. "Right now, I cannot foresee us paying that within the next week."
John Borgolini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.