Towns may get county’s help on challenges

JOHNSTOWN – Fulton County government has no procedure to assist towns and cities fighting assessment claims that ultimately affect the county. But that may change.

The Board of Supervisors’ Finance Committee on Thursday approved a measure that would allow the county to decide whether to fight assessment challenges on properties assessed at $500,000 or more – challenges municipalities usually can’t afford to fight themselves.

The full board will vote on the final resolution Monday.

“Under these thresholds, that would be the trigger for [the county] going out with the other parties to set up a legal defense,” county Administrative Officer Jon Stead said.

He said no municipalities have come to Fulton County to request assistance with the legal challenges, but this is something the county has thought of doing since last year.

The resolution establishes a policy for county participation in legal challenges to real property tax assessments.

County Treasurer Terry Blodgett told the committee numerous small-claims assessment reductions are filed each year, including 45 this year. He said these claims are filed after an assessment grievance is denied on the town or city level.

Blodgett said cities and towns are currently responsible as assessing units for representation if they deem it necessary to oppose claims. He said four of the current claims filed this year would reduce the county’s real property tax assessment by more than $7 million.

Blodgett noted there were 10 Article 7 assessment reductions for 2013 that resulted in over $10 million in reduced assessments, which translated to $156,140 in lost county real property tax revenue. Filing were entities that included the state, the owner of properties in the industrial parks, utilities, and Walgreens.

Blodgett said the cost to defend the claims usually ranges from $10,000 to $30,000.

“Very seldomly have I seen anyone lose in small claims in our town,” said Bleecker Supervisor David Howard. “Utilities are the big ones that we have no chance on in the towns.”

Blodgett said Fulton County currently has no procedures in place to assist cities and towns to combat claims.

The committee decided to set the threshold based on a policy created by Lewis County. The proposed Fulton County policy says the county will make a legal challenge to an assessment for a tax parcel or combination of tax parcels with an aggregate full market value of $500,000 or more.

“We can always refine it in two years,” Stead said.

He said if the resolution passes, it allows Blodgett to review the claim issue with the municipality involved with a “sharing approach” of information and report back to the Finance Committee.

Johnstown 3rd Ward Supervisor Jack Callery, the committee chairman, said the county should be “looking at anything that looks like a red flag is up.”

Fulton County Attorney Arthur C. Spring reviewed the Lewis County resolution and signed off on similar verbiage.

By -