PLATTSBURGH — A city-penned agreement has been delivered to the Town of Plattsburgh in hopes of squashing some conflicts between the sister municipalities, but the town said there’s some thinking to do.
The 15-term treaty presents a solution to an ongoing legal dispute, suggests a range of shared services and requests some city-owned properties, sitting within town lines, be tax exempt.
Mayor Colin Read thought it helpful to work all City of Plattsburgh solutions into one, concise document.
“There may be some things that could be improved, some things we haven’t thought of,” Read told The Press-Republican.
“There is absolutely room for negotiation. If the town has got some ideas on how we can collaborate and work together even further, I’m all for it.”
The proposed settlement agreement notes the municipalities’ pending legal dispute and calls for its termination.
That battle surfaced over a 1992 agreement connected to a city-owned co-generation plant located on town property and under the name Falcon Seaboard.
“The city and town will discontinue the action,” the document says, “and will terminate any associated agreements thereto.”
The city’s settlement also proposes the town pass a resolution, “to exempt from taxation all real property and improvements owned by the city, located within the town, and used for civic purposes.”
That would include a parcel housing the city’s chief water source: Mead Dam.
Such an arrangement, Mayor Read said, was not unusual.
“What is kind of unusual is an example of a municipality taxing another government agency,” he said, adding that the City of Plattsburgh was one of few Clinton County instances that this occurs.
The city pays the town about $72,000 per year in property taxes for land it owns within town boundaries.
And, the agreement reads, the city’s water is often used by both entities for public consumption, industrial purposes and fire suppression.
Read compared the City of Plattsburgh to traditionally tax-exempt properties like churches, hospitals and universities.
“The city is really a nonprofit,” he said. “We’re not in the business of competing with the private sector.”
Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Michael Cashman said he received the mayor’s offer prior to the Thursday night Town Board meeting, and while he shared it with town council members, Town Attorney James Coffey was not there.
“We will speak to our attorney and consult with others we may need to consult with, and we have some plans and we will respond, but we need some time to digest this material further,” Cashman said.
“Just because it was volleyed to us doesn’t mean we won’t methodically review this material. The Town of Plattsburgh, in all that we do, takes a comprehensive review of every matter.”
Cashman said he did not want to comment specifically on the crux of the city’s offer just yet, but did say that the town will keep the “best interests of our taxpayers as our top priority.”
He also said the town has a proven record of “promoting the region and collaborating with other municipalities.”
“We will review this offer, but we are not taking a position at this moment,” he said.
Town Senior Planner Trevor Cole thought the request for tax exemption an unfair one.
“It is still city infrastructure that happens to be in the town,” Cole said. “Why should they get tax-free infrastructure just because it is in the town? It’s still serves city residents.”
Cole thought the city’s request was like asking outside municipalities to subsidize the city, because non-city residents use its entities.
“Wouldn’t you welcome people to the city because they bring business?” Cole said. “That’s like saying the town should be subsidized by people from the city because they burden us by driving up here to go shopping.”
Cashman said the town’s taxing model was consistent, referencing a large sandlot owned by the Town of Beekmantown.
Because the lot is located on Town of Plattsburgh land, Cashman said, that municipality is subject to town taxes.
“We’re not cherry-picking,” he said.
And, Cole added, the City and Town of Plattsburgh have a dynamic that goes unmatched in Clinton County.
“The level of service within these districts that are provided are a lot different than two rural towns making (taxes) a wash, because they own five acres in each other’s towns,” he said. “Here, the scale is a lot different.”
If exempt, the city’s tax burden would fall elsewhere and onto some other taxable entity.
“We’d probably try to work out some sort of way to phase it out so we don’t hurt the school district or the county,” Read said.
On the other hand, the town has continuous development success and the mayor saw potential for those industries to pick up the burden.
“They’ve got new property all over the place,” Read said. “I really think that this is the time, if they were to transition more into taxing those new properties and less into the city properties, I think they’ve got the funds easily to do that.
“We’re very grateful that the town does have all of that economic activity,” he added. “I really look at things from a regional perspective.
“Their successes are our successes.”
Though open to collaboration, Mayor Read thought the proposed agreement would bring healthy economic solutions to the city, like shared services.
The settlement opens that doorway, requesting shared water and first-responder services, as well as a collaboration on public branding and advertising.
“We have so much potential and we’re not going to live up to that potential if the city keeps suffering,” Read said. “I’m optimistic that we’re getting things on the right track, but so many people just want us to dissolve and merge into the town.
“Maybe it’s inevitable, but I’m going to work really, really hard to make sure that doesn’t happen as long as I’m mayor — that’s what I signed on to do.”
The Town Board has scheduled a special meeting to discuss the settlement agreement on Tuesday, Sept. 17 at 2:30 p.m. at the Town Hall at 151 Banker Road.
Cashman said the board expects to enter an executive session for the purpose of discussion.
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