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Village of Lowville and Lewis County headed to court

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LOWVILLE — The village Board of Trustees has agreed to file a lawsuit against Lewis County as a result of the reversal of a 1998 tax exemption on a watershed property in March.

The standoff began after an August decision by county legislators to remove tax exemptions on village utility properties. They agreed in a 7-3 vote to give the villages in the county a one-year grace period in 2012, then gradually decrease the exemptions by 25 percent each year until they reached 100 percent taxation on the properties in 2016.

Once the exemption is fully removed, the village is looking at a $30,000 increase in its tax obligations to the county. That increase will be seen in water bills of water district residents in the towns of Watson and Lowville, as well as the village.

When making the August decision, legislators were unaware of a 1998 document that gave the village a tax exemption of village watershed property “so long as the property is used for the public purpose.”

After the document was brought to the attention of the legislators, they voted to reverse the exemption issued in 1998.

Legislator Paul M. Stanford, D-Watson, voted against reversing the exemption and was not surprised to learn the village was moving ahead with a lawsuit.

“If they are bringing this back to the county, then they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do,” Mr. Stanford said. “It was set in stone in 1998. It’s a legal document. We can’t break it.”

Legislature Chairman Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, voted to remove the exemption.

“A lot of people in the county have wells,” including him, he said, and they shouldn’t foot the bill for users on the village water system. “I think the people who use the service should pay for it.”

Legislator Jerry H. King, R-West Leyden, agreed with Mr. Bush. “When you grant an exemption, you’re sticking it to someone else. Why should people with wells be subsidizing someone else’s water?” Mr. King said.

Village Trustee Danny L. Salmon just took his seat in April, but he is very familiar with the situation.

The 1998 agreement was signed by Mr. Salmon, when he was mayor, and then-Legislature Chairman Ralph K. “Pete” Farney.

“I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this,” Mr. Salmon said, “but we have to protect what is morally right. We have to protect the taxpayers.”

Mr. Salmon reported 70 percent of the sewer and water bills are paid by businesses in the community. “It sends a bad message to industry from the county,” he said.

County Attorney Richard J. Graham declined an interview, saying, “I have no comment as I’ve not received any paperwork.”

The expected lawsuit had not been filed in the Lewis County clerk’s office as of late Friday afternoon.

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