ALBANY — Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties may get a big assist from the state on a $3 million bill for the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District.
Legislators have proposed a bill in which the state would cover the expense for the next three (corrected) years. During that time, the state would also do a study to determine exactly who benefits from the flood-control district, which oversees management of water levels on Great Sacandaga Lake.
Currently, five counties bear the cost: Warren, Washington, Saratoga, Rensselaer and Albany.
Under an agreement in 2013, Saratoga pays more than $1 million. Warren pays $243,000 and Washington pays $138,000. Washington County officials expected the amount to increase significantly next year.
The five counties also share in all capital costs, and that was expected to amount to another big bill soon.
Originally, hydroelectric plants covered the costs of the district. They sued and won in 2009, forcing the county to pick up the tab.
“The five counties were left holding the bag,” said Assemblyman John McDonald, D-Cohoes, who drafted the bill. “To their credit, they could’ve passed that cost down to the waterfront properties, but it would’ve been cumbersome and it would’ve really killed the urban (waterfront) areas.”
Legislators, including those representing Warren and Washington counties, met during the off-season to hammer out a new plan. They met with the district officials as well.
“This has been a collaborative effort,” McDonald said, adding that the district worked with him on ways to reduce the counties’ costs. “They were understanding. I wouldn’t say sympathetic.”
McDonald thinks the state should shoulder all of the costs of the district, citing other flood-prevention measures paid entirely by the state. But that has been proposed repeatedly without success.
So his bill says the cost should be spread out among more taxpayers.
“We need to take a look downstream,” he said. “Do a study and determine really where the benefit falls. Work together to reapportion.”
For example, he said, residents in Guilderland pay part of the cost.
“They’re nowhere near the Hudson River,” he said. “There’s an awful lot of counties between the Sacandaga and New York City.”
Washington County Administrator Chris DeBolt briefed supervisors on the bill last week, saying he was hopeful it would help resolve the issue.
“The last five years were flat (in cost) but next year, we expect a big increase,” he said. “It scared the heck of out of me. It’s patently unfair, what the state is doing.”
But he wants something that solves the problem, not something that pushes it out for then next three to five years.
“Year six is scary,” he said.