After 3 years, HRBRRD reaches agreements

The Hudson River-Black River Regulating District made strides toward paying its back taxes to Fulton County last week, reaching agreements with four of the five downstream counties from which it is looking to collect money.

After three years of seeking funds from the downstream counties, the regulating district reached agreements with Albany, Rensselaer, Warren and Washington counties within the last nine days for a total $3.5 million for past dues. The settlement also includes future annual fees, which the regulating district’s Executive Director Michael Clark declined to discuss.

The $3.5 million will be split up based on a previous calculation of how much each county benefits from the flood protection, Clark said.

The $3.5 million and future annual fees will be divided with Albany County paying just under 38 percent; Saratoga County just over 29 percent; Rensselaer County just over 22 percent; Warren County just under 7 percent and Washington County just under 4 percent.

Saratoga County will have its monthly meeting Tuesday and will decide wether to agree to the settlement.

The district’s Executive Director Michael Clark said he hopes to have agreements with all five counties before the board’s next meeting March 12.

The HRBRRD board planned on addressing the $1.66 back taxes owed to Fulton County at its Jan. 31 meeting, but Clark said it was removed from the agenda due to the proposed settlement.

The district has been seeking payment from the five counties after a 2008 court order said the district could no longer charge downstream hydropower companies for its flood-control services.

The downstream counties, represented by attorney Mark Schachner, have challenged the charges since 2010, arguing they hadn’t been required to pay the charges before then. Meanwhile, the regulating district said because they each lie downstream of the Conklingville Dam, northeast of the Great Sacandaga Lake in Hadley, it is appropriate for the counties to be charged.

District officials updated the county on the status of the settlements, but county officials weren’t available for comment.

“We have updated them on the situation – the fact that there is a proposed deal out there,” Clark said. “We are optimistic that we will be able to finally settle the Hudson River apportionment issue and the Fulton County tax issue.”

On top of the $1.66 million in back taxes owed to Broadalbin-Perth, Mayfield and Northville School Districts for the 2010-11 school year, the district also owes taxes for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, which Clark said it intends to pay as soon as possible.

Kathleen Jimino, Rensselaer County executive, said she would like to see the state intervene and split the payments up among more downstream counties.

“Both because it would be more economical for the state … and it’s not just the five counties that benefit from when the Hudson River is not flooding,” Jimino said. “Obviously there are other counties downstream that benefit as well. It would make sense for that to be a state responsibility, so we’re hoping for a legislative solution to that.”

The district originally sought $10.8 million from Rensselaer County, and Jimino is happy to the extent the agreement calls for just over two-thirds less than that.

However, she isn’t entirely pleased with the agreement.

“I’m glad that it has been resolved at a lower level of obligation than what was first proposed, but I’m still not happy that we have any obligation,” she said. “I see this as another [item] in a long line of state [costs moved] from state budget to the county budget, and therefore to our property taxpayers. While I’m happy we have made it this far, we have a long way to go to yet until I’ll be completely happy – when our taxpayers don’t have to burden any of this burden on their property tax bill.”

The regulating district will vote on the settlement once all five counties have agreed to it. The district’s next meeting is March 12 at 10 a.m. in Utica.