DEP gets big tax break in Pine Hill

By Jay Braman Jr.
Shandaken residents are eager to hear the details of a settlement between the town and the City of New York over the tax valuation of a multi-million dollar piece of city property in Pine Hill, a settlement that could cost Shandaken taxpayers plenty. The settlement also carries ramifications for Town of Middletown and Village of Margaretville taxpayers.
By far the most valuable property in town, the Pine Hill sewage treatment plant was built in the early 1990s as the state of the art of treatment plants.
At the time, with the possibility of being forced by the federal government to build an $8-$12 billion dollar filtration system for its entire water supply, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) wanted to show extraordinary commitment to protecting water quality in its reservoir system.
One way was to rebuild the old Pine Hill treatment plant, which sits on the bank of Birch Creek, feeding right into the main artery of the city’s water supply, the Esopus Creek.
The original plans for the facility caused a firestorm of resentment in Shandaken. The concrete rectangle, set to be the length of three football fields, was dubbed the Great Wall of China by some, and negotiations between the city and the town began.
Ultimately, a pseudo barnyard design theme was adopted because locals wanted something more aesthetically appealing. The city, in an attempt to work in partnership with the communities that host its water supply, agreed even though the cost of building the barn style structures was millions more.
In 2006 the city filed a lawsuit against Shandaken claiming the plant was over assessed. The town figured it to be worth $58 million, the city wanted that dropped to $25 million. That year the city paid over $1 million in taxes on the sewer plant.
At press time Shandaken Supervisor Peter DiSclafani said he awaits word from the town’s attorney on the specifics of a settlement reached on the matter.
“We didn’t get what we hoped for, but it’s not as bad as it could have been,” he said.
Whatever savings the city gets would have to be paid for by the rest of Shandaken’s taxpayers.
The settlement also impacts the Onteora School District and Ulster County.
On Tuesday Onteora’s Business Superintendent Victoria McClarin said she received a memo from the school district’s lawyer that the settlement drops the tax valuation of $15.4 million to $10.3 million, representing a one third reduction in taxes.
According to Tim Cox, the attorney for the Catskill Watershed Corporation, a template for gauging the value of city-owned treatment plants in the watershed region was developed last fall. Using the plant at Hunter/Tannersville as a model, specific guidelines were agreed upon. Cox believes that template is now being used in the value disputes the city has in several area communities including Margaretville.