CWC offers reservoir template solution

By Joe Moskowitz
Would you like to buy a used reservoir, millions of gallons of water per mile? Even if you did want to buy one, New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) isn’t about to sell any of its reservoirs, or sewage treatment plants. No one ever buys or sells these so-called special properties and that has created a very expensive problem for the City of New York and the municipalities within its Watershed. It is difficult to place a value on something than can never be bought or sold. The City claims it is paying too much in property taxes on its reservoirs. Meanwhile the Watershed towns say the City’s annual assessment challenges are driving them broke. Tim Cox, attorney for the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC) told the Andes Town Board at its monthly meeting last week that the assessment challenges have wiped out a $3 million defense fund that had been set up by the Coalition of Watershed Towns.

The treatment plant issue has been resolved by the use of templates, a plan agreed upon by both the DEP and the towns to determine the value of the facilities. Cox and the CWC are now offering a similar template to resolve the reservoir conflict.

Cox told the Andes Board that New York City feels the Pepacton Reservoir should be taxed on just the land as though it were a bathtub and someone let the water out . The town has always contended that the reservoir’s value should be based on the current market value of the rural property, plus the estimated current market value of hamlet homes and businesses which no longer exist, plus the cost of building roads and the Shavertown bridge, less depreciation, and the cost of clearing the land in order to fill it with water. The DEP has challenged Andes 13 years in a row. Challenge number 14 is currently underway. The Town of Andes has won every time. Supervisor Marty Donnelly says sometimes they will show up in court and the City will drop the challenge, but he says it still costs the town $3,000 to $4,000 to defend each challenge. Both Cox and Donnelly say a big part of the problem is no judge has ever ruled which side is correct; should the assessment be based on land only, or on all of the other factors?

The CWC template includes all of the factors in determining the assessment. The Andes Board members were even given street maps of the former hamlets of Arena, Shavertown, and Union Grove so they can begin their homework, should the town agree to accept the template.

Cox says the town will soon be given a 60-day notice. At that time, if the town agrees to the template, the City of New York will work on its version, and the CWC hopes a compromise will be reached to put the matter to rest. If the City agrees, it must adhere to the template. The Town of Andes would have the option to opt out at any time.