Shandaken, NYC settle tax dispute

By Jay Braman Jr.
Following the advice of Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC) officials, the Shandaken Town Board agreed Monday to a settlement of a dispute with New York City over the assessed value of the Pine Hill waste treatment plant.
The specific details of the settlement are complicated, but as councilman Vincent Bernstein said, it means that the city would pay $74,625 less in taxes to the town. That same amount, Bernstein noted, would now have to be paid by the rest of the town’s taxpayers. Still unclear is how the settlement will affect school taxes and county taxes.
Tax assessor Heidi Clark worked up some examples of how the settlement would impact individual taxpayers. A property with an assessed value of $30,000, she said, would pay an extra $12.30 to pick up the slack. But those in Pine Hill can expect to pay more than twice that amount, and taxpayers in Big Indian and Oliverea will pay an extra $17.10.
Prior to the settlement, town officials thought the plant was worth about $70 million. New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) figured it at more like $30 million.
The settlement, prepared by the attorneys involved, meets near the middle and results from a lawsuit filed against Shandaken by the city in 2007 that claimed the property was over assessed. The settlement covers the years 2006, 2007 and 2008 but does not require any repayment to the city for those years. It does reduce the city’s tax responsibility for the Pine Hill plant from now through 2011, but also prevents the city from bringing any legal challenge during that time as well.
CWC and town officials hope the deal also prevents lawsuits further in the future, but admits there are no guarantees.

$140,000 in legal fees
Explaining his support for the settlement, Shandaken Supervisor Peter DiSclafani said that the CWC has already spent $140,000 in this legal dispute, and has depleted its funds. To go to the next level against the city, which has way more lawyers and way more resources, would cost just as much, only this time the town taxpayers would have to pay for it.
“We have to be pragmatic,” he said.
CWC Executive Director Alan Rosa told the board that he felt the town would actually lose if they continued the battle in the courts. CWC attorney Tim Cox said that settling was the best way to go.
“Nobody wins when you try to fight it,” he said.
DiSclafani and board members Bernstein, Tim Malloy and Doris Bartlett voted to accept the settlement. Only councilman Rob Stanley opposed the measure.
Stanley, who said, “I don’t think this is a horribly bad deal,” voted no because he wanted to send a message to the city that the town was not satisfied with the arrangement.