While it’s far cry from “working together works,” Schenectady County’s lawsuit against the city of Schenectady could, with some effort and operation, lead to a resolution where all parties involved in the never-ending battle over uncollected taxes — the city, the county and the city school district — benefit to some degree.
The current situation is unfair to the city, which is required to make the school district whole when people don’t pay their taxes. A similar arrangement existed with the county until a couple years ago, but the city was able to change it (something it can’t do without the school district’s consent). However, it didn’t give the county any recourse for satisfying its own liens on these properties, and that’s what the suit is over: The county either wants the money for unpaid county taxes or the legal authority to go after it.
Currently, only the city can do so — an arrangement that isn’t particularly fair to the county. One problem is that many of these properties aren’t worth much, not enough to satisfy both parties’ liens should they be sold. So the issue of who has authority to pursue foreclosure, and how any proceeds should be divvied up, is a big one.
These parties, financially desperate though they may be, are made up of reasonable adults, as is the school district. All should agree to sit down and hash out a solution that’s fair to all — an efficient process for pursuing foreclosure as well as a formula for distributing any assets that reflects the various parties’ share of the overall tax burden (roughly 50 percent for the school district, 27 percent for the city and 23 percent for the county).
It may be a state law (and would likely need an act of the Legislature to change), but it’s hardly fair that the city must bear the full financial responsibility for making the school district whole when property taxes can’t be collected.
Taxpayers probably care little which entity gets stuck with the tab, since they pay taxes to all three. But the last thing taxpayers want to do is get stuck for legal bills when there’s an inter-municipal squabble like this — insult added to injury. Time to settle.