Fulton County board narrowly renews Wal-Mart tax deal

City of Johnstown taxpayers escaped a substantial property tax increase Monday when the Fulton Count

City of Johnstown taxpayers escaped a substantial property tax increase Monday when the Fulton County Board of Supervisors narrowly voted to continue spreading the cost of a tax exemption for the Wal-Mart Distribution Center among all county property taxpayers.

Since it was built in 2000, the Wal-Mart Distribution Center in the Johnstown Industrial Park has been exempt from city taxes but its $35 million assessed value has still been included in the county property tax rolls.

Wal-Mart has been gradually required to pay a greater percentage of its own property tax bill each year and is expected to pay all of it in 2012.

In the meantime, the Fulton County Board of Supervisors has voted each year, usually without much opposition, to spread out the tax bill for the property among all county taxpayers, rather than force city taxpayers to carry the full weight of Wal-Mart’s bill.

This year eight supervisors voted against sharing the burden: Gloversville 1st Ward Supervisor Marie Born, Ephratah Supervisor Todd Bradt, Gloversville 4th Ward Supervisor Anthony “Chart” Buanno, Oppenheim Supervisor George Capek, Gloversville 3rd Ward Supervisor Michael Gendron, Gloversville 2nd Ward Supervisor Frank Lauria Jr., town of Johnstown Supervisor Roy Palmateer and Gloversville 5th Ward Supervisor Michael Rooney. Gloversville 6th Ward Supervisor Richard Ottalagano was absent for the vote.

Fulton County uses a weighted voting system, with each supervisor’s weighted vote being roughly equivalent to the population size of the supervisor’s constituency. The vote to spread out the property tax bill passed with 290 weighted votes in favor and 237 against. Ottalagano, who had said he might vote no before the vote, could not have carried the measure with his 24 weighted votes.

Palmateer said the key swing vote was Mayfield Supervisor Richard Argotsinger, who has 64 weighted votes.

Palmateer said he tried to convince Argotsinger over the weekend to vote no, but he couldn’t do it.

“He said he was going to vote with me but then he flipped on me, so I lost out,” Palmateer said.

The Wal-Mart Distribution Center tax bill became controversial again this year after the city of Johnstown Common Council refused to authorize seven sewer connections in the town of Johnstown demanded by Wal-Mart for a proposed Walmart Supercenter off Route 30A in the city of Gloversville. Johnstown and Gloversville jointly control a sewage treatment plant and both cities’ councils must agree to connections outside of either city’s limits.

Johnstown’s council members and its mayor, Sarah Slingerland, have said they won’t support connections for additional development around the Walmart Supercenter for fear it could erode the city’s property tax base and sales tax revenue.

Johnstown’s council did approve one sewer connection for the Fulton County Federal Credit Union because its septic system would be destroyed if the Walmart Supercenter is built.

Wal-Mart, Gloversville, the credit union and town of Johnstown officials have said the supercenter project may be dead if the additional connections aren’t approved.

Gendron said many of his constituents are frustrated with the city of Johnstown over the issue. He said he wanted to give them a tax break from carrying the burden of a property in the city of Johnstown.

“The people I represent have put a lot of time and effort into this project. Our city government is probably going to go into a deficit, so I figured the people I represent needed a tax break,” he said.

Rooney said he had been inclined to vote for sharing the burden but changed his mind. He said the city of Johnstown won’t have to share the property tax revenues from the Wal-Mart Distribution Center when its tax exemption expires.

“Right now we’re sharing the burden with them but down the road they won’t be sharing the reward with us and Johnstown has a tremendous capacity to display greed,” Rooney said.

Argotsinger said he was lobbied hard by both sides of the dispute before his vote on the distribution center tax bill. He said the development fight has become like another edition of the old Johnstown-Gloversville high school football rivalry, a game no longer played. He said if Mayfield had a development project as large as the Wal-Mart Distribution Center, his taxpayers could never carry its burden alone.

“The Wal-Mart Distribution Center has brought a huge benefit to the county as far as employment, and since it was originally set up this way and voted this way every year, I thought it was of benefit to the county and I voted affirmative,” he said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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