FORT EDWARD — In an effort to collect on the Fort Edward Union Free School District’s remaining $1.765 million due in delinquent property taxes, the Washington County Board of Supervisors Finance Committee gave the county attorney the go-ahead to sue the school district for the money, pending full board approval next week.
“They approved that the county attorney can seek legal action as he sees fit,” said Roger Wickes, county attorney, explaining that there are several options to consider. “The first step is to get a judgment and then collect on the judgment.”
As part of an ongoing delinquent tax fiasco, stemming from unpaid taxes tied to the former General Electric Co. dewatering facility, formerly owned by WCC, several million dollars in unpaid Fort Edward school, town and village taxes are significantly impacting the county’s cash flow and supervisors want their money.
“I’m tired of the county being the patsy for the school,” said Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff.
But the details of when and how the taxes are paid are in dispute: The school was initially under the impression its charge-back payments to the county for make whole tax payments never collected would be spread out over several years; the town has been promising to pay, but the county has not yet received the money; the village has already paid a large portion of its bill to the county.
“I have always said there is no scenario that the county doesn’t get its money back. … They made payments to us as required by law and, yes, the district does owe them money as required by law,” school Superintendent Dan Ward said late Thursday.
Ward said that on April 16, the district paid $222,736.97 toward their total amount due, bringing it down to $1.765 million.
“I brought them a check,” he said. “We have never said we were not going to pay.”
In Thursday’s meeting, County Treasurer Al Nolette said the school district has four days to pay.
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Nonetheless, Ward said he was given different information from the county treasurer in a letter saying the district had until the end of the fiscal school year to pay the full amount.
“The county’s letter stated that the balance should be remitted at the district’s earliest convenience in the 2019-2020 school year. I did inquire about the letter and it was affirmed that my interpretation was accurate,” Ward said. “It feels as though I’m trying to hit a moving target, but that is difficult to do.”
According to Nolette, he sent the school district a bill date Aug. 16 and due in 30 days.
During last month’s Finance Committee meeting, several supervisors asked Nolette about finding ways to get the money owed from the school, town and village.
“The treasurer needs to get the money,” said Haff. “They are doing it again. They want the county to make them whole on all the money that they still owe us and then incrementally pay us back over a 10-year period. There’s no harm to them. All the harm comes to the county.”
And on Thursday, Granville Supervisor Matt Hicks said it was time to consider taking legal action because the town, village and school knew the delinquent amount owed to the county back in March.
“Six months later, there has not been a payment,” he said. “They need to get us the money as soon as possible. Taking legal action was unanimous in the committee.”
Wickes said Thursday’s Finance Committee action gives him the “authority to shove.”
“You don’t want to ever shove, but if the board chooses that, I can,” he said.