Altamont files grievance over reservoir for second year

KNOX — The village of Altamont is challenging the town of Knox over the value of its reservoir for the second year in a row, while the lawsuit it filed last summer is getting close to trial.

Knox has assessed the 303-acre parcel located on Sturgess Road at $1.6 million, with a taxable value just over $1 million, said town assessor Russ Pokorny. Altamont has instead found the reservoir is worth less than a quarter of that: $390,000, or about $240,00 in taxable value.

According to Knox town attorney John Dorfman, the lawsuit is a special proceeding under Article 7 of the Real Property Tax Law, with the village of Altamont claiming that the 2016 assessment is incorrect. It was filed in late summer last year, he said.

“Our [the town of Knox’s] position is that the assessment is proper in all forms,” said Dorfman.

The bench trial is scheduled to be held by Judge Margaret Walsh in Albany County Supreme Court. Dorfman expects a trial date will be set sometime soon, with the trial most likely being held “sooner versus later.”

Altamont stopped using the reservoir after switching to a well, said Pokorny, but he argues there is still value in the reservoir as an alternative source of water.

“Water’s a really valuable commodity,” he said.

He said he hopes the litigation will be finished in a matter of months.

Pokorny said that the assessment of the reservoir is based on a 20-year-old valuation conducted by the town with assistance from the state. He noted that, while this is an assessment based off of a 20-year-old valuation, it’s not unusual.

Unlike most properties that are evaluated by the town assessor, utilities like the reservoir must be evaluated by an assessor from the New York State Office of Real Property Tax Services, according to Dorfman.

“It’s extremely expensive to do,” he said.

The reservoir was built at the turn of the 19th Century, using an already existing natural body of water. In the 1950s, the village switched to a groundwater-source because it was safer, but has since still had to maintain the dam that prevents the reservoir from flooding nearby property.

In Altamont’s Comprehensive Plan, written in 2006, the reservoir is listed as a resource in the village, and there are guidelines to ensure its protection.

In January, Altamont’s village board voted in favor of a contract with an appraisal consultant for $8,500, plus $175 per hour of work not under the contract, and to pay engineers Barton & Loguidice $2,440 for an assessed value report. Knox had decided a month before not to pay for an appraisal.

Catherine Hasbrouck, village treasurer for Altamont, said that action allows for the consultant who originally estimated the value of the reservoir for the village to make a more thorough report.

Should the judge rule in the village’s favor, and the town not file an appeal, Altamont will likely be awarded a partial refund of the taxes it paid on the property last year, said Dorfman. This includes refunds from the town of Knox, the Knox fire district, and the Guilderland School District. The parcel is exempt from county taxes.

The refund would be paid to Altamont by the county as soon as possible, said Dorfman. The local government agencies that had collected the taxes will pay back the county the following year.

The ruling would also be set for three years — whether it is ruled in Knox’s favor or Altamont’s. Unless an appeal is immediately filed, the assessment could not be challenged in court for that length of time.

Pokorny estimates that Knox taxpayers would have to contribute $3,000 more in taxes, and the Guilderland School District residents would have to pay $24,000 more, should the ruling be in Altamont’s favor.

The village last asked the school district for an exemption on the reservoir a little less than three years ago. Neil Sanders, Guilderland School District’s Assistant Superintendent for Business, said that there hasn’t been a request since.

According to Sanders, should the village win the case, the change in the assessment would effectively be a shift in who pays the taxes — from the village residents to the school district residents outside of the village. There are four towns within the school district — Guilderland, Bethlehem, New Scotland, and Knox — where the properties go through an apportionment process in which a state equalization rate is used along with the assessed value to calculate full value to put the towns on equal footing and determine how the tax levy should be split across the four towns. In Guilderland, which is the only one of the towns that Sanders could immediately estimate the change, a win for Altamont would mean an average $1.90 per household for most taxpayers in the school district and ten cents for the library.

Altamont’s mayor, Kerry Dineen, responded to an inquiry from The Enterprise via email, saying she had no new information to give since the village filed with the court in April.

Jason Shaw, an attorney from the firm Whiteman, Osterman, & Hanna LLP, who represents the village, could not be reached for comment.

 

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