April 19, 2013

First-time unpaid tax solution floated

MALONE — Franklin County will seek state approval to borrow against the $10 million it is owed in back taxes on parcels in the disputed St. Regis Mohawk Indian land-claims area.

It would take a special law approved by the State Legislature, something that’s never been done.

“It is a unique situation that allows the state to issue debt against it,” County Treasurer Bryon Varin said at a meeting Thursday.

One legislator wants to see the state take over the unpaid land-claim obligation so the county doesn’t have to keep covering the $1 million annual debt on the handful of disputed properties.

Under a special law, the county would seek $4 million to $5 million in anticipated revenue to finish making all of its towns and school districts whole for unpaid taxes.

It might also take another $1 million to pay off what it owes toward the natural-gas pipeline Enbridge-St. Lawrence Gas is building across the county.


At the same time legislators seek that short-term funding, they will also look to borrow long term — at least another $2 million — to reconstruct Brainardsville Road (County Road 24), which is a heavily traveled route between Plattsburgh and Malone that’s steadily deteriorating.

County Attorney Jonathan Miller, County Manager Thomas Leitz and Varin are to obtain the best rate and decide if the note should be offered to local banks or on Wall Street.

And if a long-term loan is eventually obtained, it can be used to pay off the shorter obligation, they said.

They will also send a letter to Albany stating the county’s intentions and reasoning for needing the money from the land-claims fund.

Legislator Timothy Burpoe (D-Saranac Lake) said the state should free the county from the annual $1 million it has to use from the general fund to cover unpaid taxes on the properties within the Bombay Triangle, a section of the reservation in dispute for more than 25 years.

No one was sure if it would be legal, but Burpoe wants to see the handful of properties deemed exempt until a decision is made on the land claims “or for the state to take over our burden.

“I just want to stop the bleeding,” he said. “We’re hemorrhaging at a rate of $1 million a year.”

Email Denise A.

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