Press-Republican

Local News

November 23, 2013

Land claims tied to county budget

MALONE — For a second time, Franklin County has discussed borrowing from an account holding millions in guaranteed funds connected to Indian land claims.  

Legislators need state permission to tap into $10 million being held until a settlement is reached in the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s lawsuit against the state and county.

Mohawks say the state took a portion of its federally designated reservation without proper congressional approval. They filed a lawsuit seeking compensation, saying the terms of the Treaty of 1794 that defined the reservation’s boundaries were violated.

A negotiated settlement that was reached in 2005 but not ratified would, in part, have given Mohawks the right to buy back 7,000 acres of disputed properties from willing sellers.

In exchange, the county would have received $2 million a year in perpetuity for lost tax revenue from those parcels.

SPECIAL LEGISLATION

There are 793 parcels in the disputed area, and the longest-held unpaid tax debt on a parcel dates to 1978, according to the County Treasurer’s Office.

The county has taken title to 90 disputed properties: 75 in the Town of Bombay and 15 in the Town of Fort Covington.

County taxpayers have made the taxing entities whole each year by covering nearly $1 million in unpaid town, school and county taxes.

Now, the county is talking about borrowing from that account and deducting what it takes out from a future financial settlement in the lawsuit.

County Manager and Budget Officer Thomas Leitz said such a request has never been attempted, and it would take special legislation to change state-finance laws.

“The Association of Counties would help and elected officials in other counties,” he said.

‘STATE SHOULD PAY’

But Legislator Paul Maroun (R-Tupper Lake) said such a request would be complicated, and “you’d also take a chance we could alter the negotiations’ status, so I don’t think we should be banking on that.”

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