FORT EDWARD — Town and school district officials have two weeks to finalize a property tax assessment challenge settlement with real estate holding company WCC LLC, the previous owner of the former General Electric Co. dewatering site, before several million dollars in delinquent tax liens on the two parcels are canceled and charged back to the village and school.
In a 14-to-1 vote, the Washington County Board of Supervisors on Friday voted in favor of what they call “The Protection Resolution” regarding the Fort Edward tax parcels.
Fort Edward Supervisor Terry Middleton cast the only dissenting vote and Supervisors Sara Idleman of Greenwich was absent and John LaPointe of Putnam left prior to the vote.
“The Protection Resolution” assures that the county can collect delinquent tax money owed to the county from Fort Edward village and school district if the draft settlement is not finalized.
“It appears that all the parties have agreed on that (the settlement),” said County Attorney Roger Wicks, referring to an emailed draft stipulation he received. “There are multiple judges involved ... but if the three parties agree, I see no problem with the judges.”
Still, Nolette said that passing the protection resolution keeps the county safe.
“Based on conversations, I have no reason to believe this is not moving forward as presented,” Nolette said. “But I don’t take anything for granted.”
There were three resolutions regarding the two delinquent tax parcels on the table Friday, with supervisors approving all three.
“We’ve been discussing this for a long time and I’ve tried desperately to get everybody on board and educated as much as possible. We’ve held meetings and training classes,” said Henke prior to the vote. “I feel we ought to be approaching this as a county and working together on this.”
The first resolution, dubbed “The Pause Button Resolution,” authorizes a three-month reprieve concerning payments due from the village and school to the county. Additionally, the county would hold on further action for three months, beginning on April 1.
Nolette explained that in the absence of a confirmed settlement by the end of the month, the “Pause Button Resolution” offers a little more time.
Supervisors voted 16-0 in favor; Idleman was absent.
The second of the three resolutions cancels the interest and penalties owed on the delinquent parcels.
Supervisors voted 16-0 in favor of canceling the interest and penalties; Idleman was absent.
As part of the resolution, going forward, interest and penalties would be owed on taxes not paid for 2019.
To further complicate the matter, WCC donated the two parcels in late December to the newly formed Fort Edward Local Property Development Corp. But there is currently no information available on the LPDC’s tax status.
Regarding the protection resolution, Nolette said it triggers a write-off of existing tax liens at the end of the month if there is no settlement.
“This resolution is in place because there are no certainties,” Nolette said.
This ongoing issue stems from WCC’s belief that the two parcels were assessed much higher than their value and they refused to pay the taxes and filed an egregious tax assessment challenge in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Fort Edward town and school district have been negotiating with WCC regarding the assessment and taxes since that time.
Additionally, because WCC did not pay nearly $6 million in real estate taxes for the past several years, the county made the village and school district whole for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 taxes.
The month-end deadline looms because according to New York real estate law, the two parcels in question would come up for foreclosure on April 1 in the absence of a board vote.
The good news about the protection resolution, said Nolette, is, if there is no final settlement between the parties, Nolette can take action before April 1.
But because the last day of the month falls on the weekend, Nolette said everything would have to be settled before the close of business on March 29.
Granville Supervisor Matt Hicks asked about a downside to passing the resolution.
“There is no downside,” Nolette said. “That’s why I call it the protection resolution.”
Following Friday’s vote, Middleton had no comment about the resolution to charge back the taxes.
“It wasn’t unexpected,” said Dan Ward, Fort Edward Union Free School District superintendent. “The school, the town and WCC do have an agreement; a draft stipulation settlement that we should be able to complete before March 29.
“We empowered our attorneys to sign off on the resolution based on seeing the final copy,” Ward continued. “There are draft copies now. If it does go through, it is better for us because it means that WCC will be paying a portion of the previous tax levies.”