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Colton property owners affected by settlement

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COLTON - Residents in Colton will face many changes in their tax payments as a result of the recent settlement reached between the town board and Brookfield Renewable Energy Group.

The town of Colton and Brookfield Power recently reached a settlement regarding the assessed values of six Erie Boulevard Hydropower-owned properties in Colton.

The result will be a drop of $30 million over the next six years in the assessment on Brookfield’s hydroelectric facilities in Colton, and the first reassessment in the town in more than four decades will mean higher taxes for most residential property owners. Brookfield has agreed to pay a portion of the cost of the revaluation.

Colton, thanks in part to receiving about $2 million a year in taxes from Brookfield, has traditionally enjoyed some of the lowest tax rates in St. Lawrence County. The town has an equalization rate of just 4.21 percent.

Town officials say the average residential assessment is $3,000 in the hamlet of Colton. The town’s general fund and highway taxes for 2013 are $62.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, and Colton-Pierrepont Central School District residents in the town of Colton had a tax rate of $357.18 per $1,000 for the 2012-13 school year.

The settlement runs through 2019, with the assessed value of the properties dropping by $5 million each year. The assessed value for 2013 is $175 million, and by 2019, it will drop to $145 million.

The town of Colton’s full value town assessment was $310,223,705,46 in 2013. That compared to $49.5 million for the neighboring town of Parishville and $70.15 million for the town of Pierrepont.

The 2013 county tax rate for the town of Colton was $234 per $1,000 of assessed value. This number - if nothing else changes - could be dropping to $231.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, according to St. Lawrence County Real Property Tax Director Darren W. Colton.

“If nothing else changed the county levy, I have all of your assessed values and Colton’s new numbers, everybody’s new numbers, that rate would be $231.50 and I think your rate was $234 last year. Because of the share of the levy, you should be pretty close to equal what you were last year even with the drop in the assessments here in Colton,” he said at a special meeting called earlier this month to discuss the impact of the Brookfield settlement.

“To make it as simple as I can (in this example) we’re only going to have Pierrepont and Colton as towns in St. Lawrence County. So if Pierrepont’s total assessed value is $1 million taxable and Colton’s is $500,000 taxable, Pierrepont would pay two-thirds of the county tax and Colton would pay the other one-third. We have 32 towns and the city so it’s a lot more complicated than that,” Mr. Colton added.

“The residents of Colton paid last year 6.4 percent of the county tax levy. The shared county tax for Colton should drop to around 5.95 percent of the whole. You are losing a half percent of the whole. That may not seem large to you, but for you taxpayers here it’s around $300,000.”

Mr. Colton added county lawmakers have pledged to decrease the county tax levy by 14 percent as part of the agreement to add an additional 1 percent to the sales tax and if that happens the town’s residents - even with the reduction in Brookfield’s assessment - will be paying a significantly lower county tax bill next year than the current year.

The school taxes are one of two bills that the people of Colton pay annually. That will be coming in September and should be affected by the settlement as well.

“The school taxes are coming in September and January would be the next property tax (town/county). Those are the taxes that will have the immediate impact,” Town Supervisor Dennis B. Bulger said.

“The CPCS school budget (in May) passed with a 3.98 (percent increase.) So when you look at this, the impact of this settlement is an additional 5.22 percent - 5.2 percent equals $19 for every $1,000 of assessed value. Now, all the estimates this evening are based on the fact that nothing else will change and things always change,” town assessor Tina Miller said. “The budgets change, but this is the best that I can do to try to explain to you where this impact lies and what kind of impact it will be. I don’t think it’s as frightening as we all thought to begin with.”

Ms. Miller also discussed the change in costs for property owners in result of the settlement, but noted that the numbers she was using were based on the assumption that nothing will change.

“To come up with an impact statement we had to use last year’s values. What I was trying to get across was that if this started last year and we had a budget we know already that last year’s value was $67 per $1,000 of assessed value. Now that’s just including the town, highway, and levy charge back costs. We know those are a given, everyone pays that,” Ms. Miller said.

“It would be different, so we can’t make all these calculations. So based on last year’s rate, we would take the levy or the budget for these three, divided by the total taxable assessed value, meaning properties that pays taxes. The budget would be divided by the total assessed value and that came out to $67 per $1,000. The new rate came out at $72.66 per 1,000. That is also based on the fact that the levy has not changed, this value was using the same $5 increase per $1,000 assessed value from Erie last year.”

While most of the residents who asked questions at the recent meeting on the Brookfield assessment reduction appeared understanding of the terms of the settlement, Peggy Mousaw, Colton, strongly voiced her concern.

“The next six years, I’m very concerned about the decrease in the assessment for Erie Boulevard. ... In the big scheme of things it’s a pie. Everybody’s got their share of the pie and depending on how high you’re assessed depends on how high your share of the pie is. That’s the bottom line,” Ms. Mousaw said.

Mr. Bulger said he was optimistic the settlement was in the best interest of all parties.

“I think what we wanted to convey here tonight was that this is a win-win situation. (Brookfield) worked with us honestly, and they tried to help us make a fair settlement. I would like to think that we’ve reached that settlement and hopefully you come to the same conclusion as we move forward,” Mr. Bulger said.

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