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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Hocus--Pocus! Abracadabra!

The $20 unit charge on the Town & County tax bill of every parcel in the Consolidated Sewer District is suddenly a user fee; that must be why the town decided to charge not-for-profits the $20 for sewers on their 2014 town tax bill.

According to an article in yesterday’s Observer Dispatch, not-for-profits are not exempt from user fees. Our research has confirmed that is absolutely correct; we agree.

While it is true that not-for-profits are not exempt from paying user fees also known as sewer rents, they are exempt from special assessments. And since to the best of our knowledge, the Town of New Hartford doesn’t have a Sewer Rent Law on the books, the sewer operation and maintenance charge cannot be considered a user charge.

The problem with assessments and special district charges has been festering for some time now. We bring inconsistencies to the town board and they consistently ignore us. But now, the Observer Dispatch is reporting on the problems with the sewer charges and three (3) not-for-profits are asking for a refund. Now might be a good time for the town board to take action!

Tyksinski is quoted in yesterday's OD article as saying:
“Not all exempts are in fact exempt from special assessments (like sewer fees),” Town Supervisor Pat Tyksinski said. “We’re not going to do anything until we figure out exactly what we’re supposed to be doing and how it’s supposed to be done and if there is a problem at all.”
Really, Supervisor Tyskinski? Do you really think that we presented that list of 88 not-for-profit parcels that are being charged sewer fees even though they are exempt from special assessments to you last February without first doing our homework. Trust us...every single parcel we listed is exempt from special assessments!

The Sewer Rent Law specifically states that sewer rents are “A scale of annual charges established and imposed… for the use of a sewer system or any part or parts thereof.” The law is very specific; the charges must be assessed to all parcels in the sewer district (several parcels are not paying the tax because of errors in the assessment database); and the charges must have a rational basis that must be delineated in the local law.

If a single family home pays $20 user fee/sewer rent and a shopping center also pays a $20 user fee/sewer rent, how could the town even be in compliance with a Sewer Rent Law even if there was one? What scale is the town basing this charge on?  That means that every parcel in the Consolidated Sewer District is being charged with no basis in law for the charge.

In a document written for the Dept. of Environmental Conservation by Bob Feller of Bond, Schoeneck & King, PLLC, titled Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Funding Document, he states:
User Fees

"There is no statute that authorizes user fees to support operation and maintenance costs for all types of capital improvements. The General Municipal Law Article 14-F authorizes the use of sewer rents for any municipality or municipal district that is operating a waste water system. It establishes specific bases upon which these charges can be based."
We have to ask, Supervisor Tyskinski, just how can the $20 charge that all sewers users pay each year all of a sudden (almost overnight) become a user fee absent a local law, ordinance or resolution? Or are you calling it something else? What basis in law did you use to continue to charge not-for-profits?

It's interesting to note that back in 1995 Supervisor Tyksinski was on the committee that worked on consolidating the town's sewer improvements and sewer district to form what is now known as the Consolidated Sewer District. At the time, County Comptroller Joe Timpano was the town comptroller and he was also part of the committee that worked on the consolidation!

Charging not-for-profits without the proper law in place is just one piece of the whole picture. There is more to this story..we will continue until the town board does the right thing...FIX IT!

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