FORT EDWARD — The school district will have to pay back $1.855 million to General Electric, as part of a settlement of a lawsuit over the assessment of the company’s former dewatering plant.
GE had challenged the assessment of two properties for a seven-year period that ended in 2015, when the company ended its project to dredge the Hudson River to remove PCBs.
The village and town of Fort Edward and Washington County were all parties to the lawsuit. The Fort Edward school board and Town Board approved the settlement on Monday and the Village Board and county Board of Supervisors will approve it at upcoming meetings.
GE spokesman Mark Behan said the parties have reached an acceptable solution.
The company technically did not own the two parcels on Towpath Lane, but Behan said its lease agreement required that it pay the property taxes.
GE challenged the assessment as being too high. The company will receive a total refund of $3.35 million under the settlement, Behan said, with the school district paying the largest share/
“The $16.65 million in net taxes to the municipalities and school districts will still make GE the largest taxpayer in the town, village and school district,” Behan said.
GE has been a major employer and taxpayer in the community since 1942, Behan said.
“We were very pleased to work out a settlement,” he said.
The school district is tapping the money from a reserve fund it had specifically set up for these tax challenges.
Superintendent of Schools Daniel Ward did not return a message seeking comment on Tuesday.
The repayment comes on top of another financial blow caused by the completion of the dredging project. The assessed value for the two dewatering plant parcels has been lowered from a combined $72.6 million to nearly $37.5 million, resulting in a loss of about $950,000 in tax revenue to the district.
The town will have to pay back $400,000 as part of the settlement, according to Supervisor Mitch Suprenant. He said the town could spread the payments over two years, but will pay the whole thing on Dec. 1, barring a catastrophe.
Town officials saved up money for the tax challenge. Suprenant said they felt it was time to make a deal with GE.
“It’s not going to be easy to write that check, but we’re putting a close to it,” he said. “We were hoping to not have to pay anything. But if we got to that point, it would be very expensive and no guarantees.”
The breakdown for how much the two other parties in the lawsuit will have to pay was not available.
An effort to attract new industry to the former dewatering plant property has not borne fruit. A project to build rail cars at the site is not happening because by a bid by Bombardier and CRRC was not accepted by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Warren County supervisors are considering joining in litigation that goes after the makers of opioid drugs for the addiction crisis that has devastated communities around the region.
The county board’s Finance Committee heard a pitch Tuesday from Saratoga Springs lawyer Donald Boyajian, who is affiliated with a national law firm pursuing lawsuits against manufacturers of addictive prescription painkillers like Oxycontin, Percocet and Fentanyl.
The lawsuits go after the companies for what Boyajian called “concerted, aggressive, fraudulent marketing schemes” that resulted in thousands of addicts who turned to heroin when the painkiller pills become less effective for them over time.
The drugs were designed to be used on a short-term basis, but the manufacturers convinced doctors to prescribe them for long-term pain and for dental and sports injuries, including for children.
“You have kids using these to manage pain. It’s a huge, huge problem,” Boyajian said.
If the lawsuit is successful, counties can recoup costs for police, treatment and social services spending that stemmed from the opioid problem, he explained. The counties won’t pay any up-front fees or court costs, as lawyers will collect only if they succeed in getting a settlement or verdict. The only effort required of local officials would be to compile and detail their opioid-related costs, Boyajian explained.
Nationally, it has been estimated the addiction crisis has cost governments $80 billion per year, while the drug makers bring in $8 billion annually in profits on opioids, according to Boyajian.
Boyajian said the law firm he is working with, Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC, is representing 15 or so counties, with Fulton County signing on most recently, as well as municipalities around the country. Other New York counties that have signed on include Schenectady, St. Lawrence and numerous counties around New York City.
Boyajian said seven opioid makers as well, as doctors that were involved in the marketing, have been the target of the litigation. The Simmons firm has already sued and won a $75 million settlement on behalf of opioid users, Boyajian added.
The Warren County Finance Committee held off Tuesday on committing to the lawsuit after it learned a Washington County lawyer is also pitching counties on behalf of another national law firm. Supervisors want to look into the issue further, although they seemed interested in joining litigation against the drug makers.
“It looks like a good start to go after these people,” said Queensbury at-Large Supervisor Doug Beaty.
Queensbury Supervisor John Strough said he had been contacted by Hudson Falls lawyer William Nikas, who is representing a separate firm that is also targeting the drug makers. Nikas sought a time to discuss the issue with Warren County leaders, and told Strough he is making presentations to supervisors in Washington and Saratoga counties as well.
Boyajian, who is not the regional congressional candidate by the same name, urged supervisors to “do your own due diligence,” but said the other firm’s lawsuit is separate from the one his firm is pursuing, which was filed in state Supreme Court in Suffolk County.
“We think the firm I’m working with is much more well-equipped to be at the bargaining table with these pharmaceutical companies,” Boyajian said.