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Ruling could end state forest land taxes

ALBANY A recent ruling by a state court has captured the attention of Adirondack government officials.

A lawsuit filed by a town supervisor in western New Yorks Chautauqua County claimed some New York municipalities receive state tax payments and/or payments in lieu of taxes for state owned land in their respective communities while other communities do not receive these payments. On Nov. 14, 2007 Acting State Supreme Court Justice Timothy J. Walker agreed.

Walker wrote, The Constitution does not prohibit dual tax rates or require that all taxpayers be treated the same. It requires only that those similarly situated be treated uniformly.

The original law permitting the state to pay taxes on state Forest Preserve lands dates back to 1886. The justification for that law pointed out the benefits of preservation of forest lands for all the people of New York State. The decision puts the forest land payments into question, and has moved onto the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division.

For some Adirondack towns, the lack of state payments would prove to be dire. For example, the town of Minerva receives $1,153,917, over 60 percent of the towns $1,890,898 total budget.

That's a sizable amount of money, and if that happens, the town of Minerva is going to cease to exist, said Minerva Supervisor Michael McSweeney. He said there was no way the towns 800 residents could pick up the difference.

McSweeney said he was carefully monitoring the situation, stating the continued forest land payments were his top priority.

Until the matter is settled, some people are advocating for a moratorium on state land purchases. Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward (R - Willsboro) has been leading that fight locally.

Sayward consulted with Assembly staff attorneys regarding this case, and said they agree that sound rationale was given by the state for paying taxes on land in both the Adirondack and Catskill Parks.

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