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Adirondack counties join in legal fight to retain state tax payments

Faced with a potential devastating loss of state land tax payments, at least seven counties in the Adirondacks have joined together in a legal effort to retain the income, estimated at tens of millions of dollars annually. Officials representing Warren, Essex, Hamilton, Herkimer, Lewis, Franklin, and Washington counties have agreed to jointly pay for a lawyer to fight to keep the property tax payments flowing from the state to the counties. Saratoga County may also be participating, Warren County Attorney Paul Dusek said. We cant let this court case get away from us, he said. If we lost the states tax payments, there would be horrendous taxes shifted onto local private properties. The court case is an appeal in the state Appellate Division over a decision of a state Supreme Court justice in Chautauqua County, who struck down all laws governing state tax payments to local governments. The state now pays local towns and counties around the state for some but not all of the land it owns, including millions of acres of state forest land in the Adirondacks. The judges action put the state payments in limbo, and the state attorney general has pledged to fight the judges decision. But the officials of the seven counties are concerned that their interests may not coincide with the states, Dusek said. So they have decided to hire their own attorney to represent them jointly, Dusek said. Weve got to make sure our interests are heard, he said. Essex County Attorney Dan Manning said the stakes in the legal case were high. If we dont fight this case, we stand to lose a substantial amount of tax income, he said. It would financially cripple us. Essex County and its towns would lose $7.5 million annually in land tax revenue, he said, noting that the state owns about 50 percent of all the land in the county. Including payments to Essex Countys school districts, the losses could be millions of dollars more. In Warren County, losses to the county, its towns and school districts would total $6.2 million, according to board Chairman Fred Monroe. The finance subcommittee of the board voted last week to spend up to $10,000 for its share of the legal representation, and several of the other counties took similar action this month. Dusek said officials from the seven counties were busy reviewing resumes of lawyers and conducting interviews. He said they expected to have a lawyer chosen by this week. Since so many counties are presenting their arguments together, it makes our case more persuasive, he said.

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