Outdoor groups defend NY tax support
ALBANY — Several conservation groups with interests in the Adirondacks and Catskills are seeking to join the state's defense in litigation over tax payments.
The organizations want to assist the state in defending the practice of making state tax payments to local governments and school districts in areas in which the state owns large tracts of forested land. The case is expected to be heard in September by the Fourth Division of the Appellate Department in Rochester. The deadline for filing “friend of the court” briefs is May 19.
“Local governments provide road access to many preserve lands and many of the services needed by tourists,” said Brian L. Houseal, executive director of the Adirondack Council. “Local governments help fight forest fires and also arrest, prosecute and incarcerate those who steal timber and poach wildlife from the Forest Preserve.”
Last November, state Supreme Court Judge Timothy J. Walker overturned state laws governing state tax payments to local governments, which he characterized as “arbitrary.” The case, Dillenburg v. New York, dealt with a small tract in the Chautauqua County town of Arkwright. The town supervisor claimed the state acted unfairly in denying tax payments in the town even though it makes them elsewhere, most notably in the Adirondacks and the Catskills.
The ruling effectively voided all state tax payments to county and municipal governments across the state, though Judge Walker allowed the payments to continue until the appeal is resolved.
“It was inappropriate for the lower court in this case to lump the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves in with other state forest lands,” said Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club. “Tax payments on non-Forest Preserve lands were set up at different times for different reasons. The payments on Forest Preserve lands have received broad-based public support and have been upheld by New York's courts over the past 122 years.”
The state has been making tax payments to local governments in both the Adirondack and Catskill parks since 1886.
“All of the towns in the Adirondacks and Catskills have a more solid claim to state tax payments than the town of Arkwright … or any other town outside those two parks,” Houseal said. “If the Forest Preserve becomes tax-exempt, it will be seen as a burden to local taxpayers, not an asset. Some Adirondack towns are more than 70-percent state-owned Forest Preserve.”
The groups looking to join the suit are the Adirondack Council, Adirondack Landowners Association, Adirondack Mountain Club, Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, Audubon New York, Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, Open Space Conservancy and Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks.
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