Court of Appeals says St. Lawrence County responsible for Ogdensburg's delinquent taxes
BY JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week
OGDENSBURG — A New York State Court of Appeals decision will force St. Lawrence County taxpayers to make the city whole on delinquent property taxes.
Essentially, the city will be treated the same as towns and villages in the county with regard to property tax liability.The ruling affirmed a split appellate court ruling that Ogdensburg is no longer responsible for unpaid taxes on city properties.
The ruling came in a 6-0 ruling with one judge not participating in the vote and also states that the county will be responsible for the city’s legal fees.
The city accomplished the transfer of responsibility though a charter amendment, which led to a legal challenge from the county.
Although the ruling centers around property tax jurisdiction, the legal battle was born from a conflict between the county and the city over failed sales tax negotiations.
After the county and city failed to reach the deal, the city decided to “opt out” and begin collecting its own sales tax.
However, as part of that plan, the city is also seeking to push property tax jurisdiction over to the county saving the city around $300,000 annually.
It would also save the city other costs associated with marketing, demolishing and restoring properties it inherits from delinquent taxes.
That cost and responsibility will now fall to the county.
The big savings for the city, as potentially more than a half-million dollars, could come from the re-levying of delinquent school taxes.
In 2021, the county sued the city after Ogdensburg lawmakers adopted a law that “seeks to unilaterally obligate and designate the County of St. Lawrence to act as primary real property tax enforcement and collection officer for the city, as well as the City of Ogdensburg School District.”
The county argued that the move is unconstitutional and sought judgments from the court of such.
During the legal battle, the Supreme Court and both the Appellate Court and the Court of Appeals upheld that the county would not be responsible for delinquent school taxes.
However, Ogdensburg leaders believe they can still pass the cost onto the county, just not immediately.
The city has maintained that while the city will make the school whole on uncollected taxes, the delinquent bills can be re-levied on the property owners who do not pay, which will essentially leave the county responsible as it assumes liability of the property the following year.
That could be as much as $700,000 the city would be shifting to the county.
There are questions regarding how the county will address the re-levied taxes, but at this time the county is still reviewing the ruling.
“We are still evaluating the decision while we recognize the court of appeals affirmed the lower court decision of the appellate division, they did so on different grounds than previously considered. “The county makes note of the observation in the Court of Appeals decision that the city of Ogdensburg is no longer a tax district by its own actions and it is now incumbent upon the county to find out what that means,” St. Lawrence County Attorney Stephen Button said.”
Ogdensburg Mayor Jeffrey M. Skelly sees the decision as a win and says it will help offset some of the impact associated with changes in the sales tax formula that has taken a major toll on city revenues.
The court decision will also take some of the guesswork out of budgeting as the city will now be made whole on unpaid property taxes and can plan using firmer numbers.