FULTON, NY – The final decision whether the Fulton Wastewater Treatment Plant will become part of the city or continue to be in the town of Granby and taxed accordingly is expected to be handed down any day by the New York State Court of Appeals.
“A three judge panel, the final step – they will decide if annexation is in the best interest of the general public,” Mayor Ron Woodward said during a phone interview last week.
The issue of annexing the city of Fulton’s sewer treatment facility began in 2012 when the state raised the assessed value of the plant and the land from $3,012,047 to $3,934,044.
Based on the higher assessed value, the town of Granby and County of Oswego received nearly $116,000 a year in county, town, school, fire district and highway district taxes from the city.
Town of Granby Supervisor Ed Williamson said during a public hearing in 2012 that the town did ask the state to reduce the tax assessment on the treatment plant property, but the state refused.
It is unusual for one government to pay taxes to another; in this instance the net effect causes users to pay higher sewer fees because the treatment plant’s expenses include $116,000 in property taxes.
The city of Fulton and its wastewater plant customers benefit from annexation because it eliminates all of that spending, according to Woodward.
During a joint Fulton/Granby public hearing in August 2012 the mayor said that the reasons for the annexation are the immediate tax relief as well as its long-term value for the community.
At that time, the city was negotiating with an unnamed company for the BirdsEye property.
“They think our sewer costs are probably 50 percent higher than they should be,” Woodward explained to those at the hearing.
“They’re talking about 180 jobs, and they want a concession from us for the next three years not only in sewer and water rates, but in taxes. … Are we the only ones that should have to offer the concessions for economic development?”
Several Granby residents and business owners spoke against allowing Fulton to annex the land, citing concerns for the effect on the town’s assessed value and a potential tax increase due to the shift of burden.
After the joint meeting, Fulton passed resolutions to approve annexation and named itself as lead agency for the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act.
The town of Granby passed a resolution denying the city lead agency status as Fulton’s case for annexation rests on a novel interpretation of the rules.
The city is using its Indian Point Park, on the east side of the Oswego River connected by the land beneath the water as its border to the treatment plant on the west bank of the waterway.
In October 2012 when the matter was appealed to the DEC, Commissioner Joseph Martens upheld the city of Fulton’s position as lead agency.
According to Martens’ decision the land beneath the river belongs to the state but is under the territorial jurisdiction of the town.
The town of Granby then filed a petition with the County Clerk denying annexation.
The next month the city of Fulton filed a petition in Supreme Court for a judgment in the matter of annexation, according to documents filed with the Oswego County Clerk.
In response to that petition, in May 2013 Supreme Court Judge James McCarthy ruled the argument by the town “in support of its position that the city of Fulton failed to comply with SEQRA is without merit, its challenge to the actions of the city is all respects denied, and its petition … is in all respects denied.”
The town of Granby appealed McCarthy’s decision.
The Supreme Court of New York State Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department was scheduled to hear that appeal on March 3.
An appellate court spokesman said the judges’ decision is expected soon.
Correction: The original story indicated the county tax disbursement was to the town of Granby. County taxes are paid to the county, not the local municipality.