Schenectady County

Schenectady can’t cover delinquent taxes

The city can’t afford to pay the delinquent taxes its property owners owe the county, City Council m

The city can’t afford to pay the delinquent taxes its property owners owe the county, City Council members decided Monday, setting in motion a process that would cost the county $1.7 million this year.

The decision is far from certain — council members will hold a public hearing before a final vote next month. But they unanimously support it.

County Attorney Chris Gardner, who has opposed the move since it was first discussed last year, did not return a call seeking comment.

The council also wants to get out of its obligation to pay delinquent school taxes. For the 2009-10 school year, the city was supposed to pay $3.7 million, but Schenectady never wrote the schools a check. The council instead told the district not to expect the money until next year, at the earliest.

Now the council wants the county to take over that cost, too — essentially adding $5.4 million to the county’s expenses.

The state requires Schenectady to make the school district whole, but it requires most other counties to pay their school districts. The council plans to ask the state to do the same in Schenectady County.

“We’re not looking to stiff them,” Acting Mayor Gary McCarthy said. “We don’t have the money.”

He doesn’t have the full support of the council for that.

Councilman Joseph Allen asked, “How do they [the schools] survive, losing $3.7 million?”

McCarthy wants to work with the county to help collect the delinquent taxes, rather than paying it all in advance. That method just isn’t realistic today, he said.

“Once upon a time, the city of Schenectady was a cash cow. GE was booming, and everything was well here, and we had the revenue to do this,” he said. “We do not have the revenue now. … If we had all that cash, we’d be paving every street in the city of Schenectady this year.”

He looked at school board President Cathy Lewis, who was in the audience, and added, “We’re doing this in a friendly manner.”

Lewis answered, “I have to be a bit skeptical about that.”

She asked which governing body would have the authority to foreclose, to which McCarthy admitted, “That is the complicating factor.”

He envisions a system in which the county and city work together, both to collect old taxes and foreclose on properties if the owners don’t pay.

In other business, council members came down hard on a mountain biking club that built trails in a forever wild forest without city permission.

Several council members toured the trails and also walked the ones built by the club in a different part of Central Park.

Now they want all of the trails closed down — even the old ones.

They found jumps designed to flip bikes and other risky features.

Although the club has liability insurance, children and other mountain bikers who come upon the trails might not, and even club members could still sue the city.

“There is a substantial liability to the city,” McCarthy said.

Councilwoman Margaret King agreed. “Some of it looks dangerous. I’m surprised we haven’t had any accidents back there,” she said.

Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen said the bikers did not have permission to build any “structures” on the old trails or make trails in the forever wild zone. He recommended that the council order the bikers to stop using the trails immediately and remove the obstacles.

“There’s not a lot of wooded areas which people can passively enjoy in urban areas,” he said, arguing against allowing mountain biking.

But other council members said they wanted to find a place for the bikers, with rules about usage and bans on certain types of jumps.

Olsen said he would tour other mountain bike trails and find out how they are regulated.

“What has been done to encourage this activity but do it in a way that’s safe and doesn’t harm the environment, that may be possible,” he said. “In the interim, we need to make this stop until we can come up with guidelines.”

Council members agreed, but told him to talk with club leader Heather Rizzi, investigate regulations and report back June 6.

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