Ogdensburg votes to pay $825,000 debt to St. Lawrence County

Sydney Schaefer, Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.
·4 min read

Feb. 23—OGDENSBURG — City Council voted Monday night to pay an $825,000 debt to St. Lawrence County that's been accumulating since 2003.

The resolution to initiate payment to the county was passed by a 4-3 vote, but not without discussion.

Councilor Daniel E. Skamperle first introduced the idea of tabling the resolution until further negotiations can be had with county officials. Councilor Michael B. Powers introduced a motion to table the resolution, with a second from Mr. Skamperle, but the resolution's tabling ultimately failed by the same 4-3 vote.

Councilors William B. Dillabough, John A. Rishe, Steven M. Fisher and Mayor Jeffrey M. Skelly voted against the tabling of the resolution and again to pass the resolution while Councilor Nichole L. Kennedy, Mr. Skamperle and Mr. Powers voted in favor of tabling the resolution and again against the resolution.

"If we owe it, we pay it," Mayor Skelly said of the total, but added he thinks the debt has been used as leverage by the county over the city to strike down other deals. The county's Finance Committee recently rejected the city's request for a two-year extension to finalize its negotiations for sales tax distribution. The city has a November deadline to complete sales tax negotiations.

The resolution further states the repayment terms will be mutually agreed upon between City Manager Stephen P. Jellie and County Administrator Ruth A. Doyle, and the obligation will be repaid no later than 18 months from the date of the resolution's passing.

The terms of Mr. Jellie's agreement with the county administrator have not yet been disclosed.

The money to pay the old property taxes will come from the city's general fund, the resolution reads.

Since 2003, the city has racked up a total of $825,827.87 in past-due property taxes owed to the county. The county has not tacked on any extra interest or penalties for nonpayment to this number.

The city collects its own property taxes and then makes the county whole on any money the county does not receive, as if someone doesn't pay their city taxes, they also don't pay their county taxes. The city also makes the Ogdensburg City School District whole on school taxes as well.

Last month, the city paid the county in full for delinquent property taxes owed for 2020, which totaled about $325,000.

Mr. Jellie said the 2020 amount was high because the city paid the bill almost immediately after it was received from the county. In past years, it seems the city waited to pay the county until later in the year — providing time for some previously delinquent taxes to be paid to the city — which is why some of the totals fluctuate in amount.

While the city already paid the county for 2020, the city will continue to collect taxes throughout the year as people pay them.

The breakdown of the $825,000 bill by year is as follows: $40,082.51 for 2003; $298,652.21 for 2004; $180,830.85 for 2005; $31,452.14 for 2013; $30,879.51 for 2014; $6,850.21 for 2015; $39,891.68 for 2016; $56,053.42 for 2017; $58,643.72 for 2018; and $82,491.62 for 2019.

These totals, Mr. Jellie said, are beyond the timeframe anyone is going to pay them. The amounts are for properties already foreclosed on and taken back by the city, he said.

"There's no more action being taken to collect this money," Mr. Jellie added.

It appears the city paid its full tax obligations to the county for the years 2006 to 2012, which is why no amounts owed are reflected for those years.

Mr. Jellie said he originally brought up two options to the county, the first being an immediate payment of the $825,000 at a discounted rate, or in the full amount over a mutually agreed upon timeframe.

Mr. Jellie said the county was not interested in a discounted rate.

Mr. Powers asked for a further breakdown of that money, such as where the uncollected money is due from, but Mr. Jellie said a further breakdown was not available.

City Council also voted Monday night to pass two more resolutions, the first authorized Mr. Jellie to execute a change order for the Wastewater Treatment Plant Capital Improvement Project contract with Jett Industries Inc. The resolution, which was tabled Jan. 25, authorized Mr. Jellie to use about $31,000 for minor changes to the project's construction.

The city will continue to seek additional funding for alternate projects included in the original wastewater treatment plant bid.

The resolution passed by a 6-1 vote, with Mr. Powers voting against.

The second was a resolution to negotiate the transfer of property tax foreclosure jurisdiction from the city to the county. The resolution was amended to have the transfer be complete by Jan. 1, 2022, which is the start of the next fiscal year. Mr. Rishe introduced the motion to amend which was then seconded by Mr. Fisher.

The resolution was passed unanimously.

The council also unanimously voted to table a resolution authorizing Mr. Jellie to sign an agreement between the city and Ogdensburg Volunteer Rescue Squad for ambulance and rescue service within city limits.