Saratoga County

Saratoga Springs property tax settlements to be costly

Quad Graphics and Ball Metal Beverage Container Corp. will get hundreds of thousands of dollars back

Quad Graphics and Ball Metal Beverage Container Corp. will get hundreds of thousands of dollars back from the Saratoga Springs City School District, city of Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County after reaching settlements last month in a pair of long-standing court battles over their respective property assessments.

The school district will pay back the most to settle the outstanding tax certiorari cases. Earlier this week, the district’s Board of Education approved settlements that will repay Quad Graphics $539,499 and Ball Metal $150,194.

In December, members of the City Council ratified their agreement, which will repay Quad Graphics $169,837 and Ball Metal $37,321. County officials are in the midst of calculating their repayment, which is a figure that is expected to be about half as much as what the city repaid the companies, both located in the W.J. Grande Industrial Park off Geyser Road.

Accounts Commissioner John Franck said the settlements resolve the city’s two largest tax disputes. While the three municipal entities will have to refund money to the companies, he said litigating the cases seemed futile because there wasn’t much of a gap between the appraisals conducted by the city and each respective company.

“We had appraisals that were all within a pretty tight range,” he said. “Once that happens, it’s game over. You have to settle. I hate to spend taxpayer dollars, but you have to know when to cut your losses.”

Bruce Zeftel, a Rochester attorney who represented both companies, was on vacation all week and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Quad Graphics contested its assessment from 2011-14, arguing its facilities and land were worth $8,120,000 last year. In contrast, the city valued Quad Graphics’ 12 parcels in the industrial park at $27,130,950 in 2014.

Both parties agreed to set Quad Graphics’ assessment at $17,206,400 for 2014. The agreement will fix the company’s assessment until 2017, according to court documents.

In 2014, Ball Metal argued it’s manufacturing facility was valued at $4 million, $7 million lower than the city valued its property. The parties ultimately settled on an assessment of $8,267,200 and agreed to keep the value static until 2017.

Both the city and school district put money aside from reserves to pay for assessment claims. In the case of the school district, the tax certiorari reserve totaled $5.04 million before the recent settlements are factored in.

“To the extent possible, the [education finance advisory] committee attempts to be proactive by having a responsible reserve posture to pay for these tax challenges so that repayment monies do not have to come out of the program budget planned for the year,” said Kurt Jaeger, the district’s assistant superintendent for business.

Franck said both companies argued their assessments were too high based on their facilities losing value over time. And in the case of Quad Graphics — a company that prints magazines and other literature — he can somewhat understand their point.

“There’s an obsolescence to the building,” he said. “Even though it may be clean … its use has changed.”

Both companies have a history of litigating their assessments. In 2006, city and school district officials approved a half-million dollar settlement with Quad Graphics. Franck said the agreement locked in the assessment for a number of years. Once that period expired, he said they started a new claim.

Franck said Quad Graphics initially offered a settlement in 2011 that set the company’s assessment higher than this year’s agreement. But at the time, he said the school district was unwilling to settle.

Jaeger said the district simply wants the most accurate assessment in these cases.

“The city and towns have the responsibility of establishing assessed values,” he said. “The district is interested that these assessed values are accurate and up to date.”

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