The city of Little Falls is in the process of withdrawing from a lawsuit involving the Little Falls Family YMCA, according to attorney Armond Festine.
“We are working to have the suit discontinued, as the city’s Common Council has indicated it does not wish to purse the matter,” Festine said during a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon. “In my opinion the city had a good claim, but it’s the directive of the client to determine to pursue litigation or not. The Common Council made the decision not to pursue this matter and it is my intent as the attorney representing the city of Little Falls to put this to rest in the very near future.”
The lawsuit questioned whether three YMCA-owned properties should be tax exempt or not.
The properties include emergency and income housing at 43 Furnace and 544 Garden streets, and a Community Co-op that provides natural and specialty foods at discount prices at 589 Albany St.
“I am waiting to see the paperwork from the attorneys,” Little Falls Mayor Robert Peters said during a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon. “The Common Council passed a resolution that stated they would not authorize the use of city moneys to pay for the cost of this litigation, so the court case has stopped. I am just waiting to sign the necessary paperwork to formally put an end to it.”
Festine said the paperwork is a “formality.” “The Common Council has stated its intent and an agreement has been made that the city does not wish to further contest the matter,” he said.
“The public needs to know that this was not some sort of an evil assault on the YMCA itself. This is nonsense. Such tactics on their part mislead the public and are not in conformity with the law. What we needed here was a calm review of the actual facts and a decision by the Supreme Court,” said city Assessor Joy Presta in a statement issued Wednesday.
Presta, who was appointed assessor in January after Peters was called upon to a break a 4-4 tie on a Common Council resolution to cancel an agreement with Herkimer County for assessor services and approve the appointment of a city assessor, said the city supports the many good activities of the YMCA and that everyone knows the good they do for the community.
“However, the law is the law. If an assessor can not do their job according to real property tax law and treat every taxpayer the same, then why do we have public officials? Only three properties — 589 Albany St. (retail store), 544 Garden St. (three-family apartment) and 43 Furnace St. (two-family apartment)— are at issue in the case before Herkimer County Supreme Court. All the other YMCA properties, including the main center on Jackson Street, are 100 percent tax exempt under the real property tax law of New York state,” she said in her statement.
Page 2 of 2 - Addressing the Community Co-op, Presta said “there is nothing charitable or benevolent about operating a retail store.” “The Co-op sells all sorts of trendy and specialty products ranging from wine and beer making kits to coffee pots, beauty products, organic foods, etc. at market retail prices. This is not food in bulk for the poor or low-income families. It is retail store which has gross receipts in excess of $1 million a year. Retail establishments should pay taxes just like anyone else in business and as every business owner in the city of Little Falls,” she said in her statement.
Addressing the emergency and income housing, Presta said “there is nothing charitable or benevolent about renting apartments in two-family homes or duplexes to tenants on an indefinite basis, where the rents are fully comparable to similar units in the city.” “These homes have not been used for victims of domestic abuse or fire, but for profit. Every landlord who operates income property for profit pays taxes on such properties, so should the Y,” she said in her statement.
Presta said as assessor she responded to legitimate taxpayer complaints about the use of the properties and was within her rights to investigate the use of the three properties and remove the charitable exemptions in accordance to Section No. 420 of the real property tax law.
“The YMCA complained to the city of Little Falls Board of Assessment Review and my actions were upheld by the board,” she said in her statement. “It must be emphasized that assessment decisions are governed by state law and not personal opinions. The mayor and Common Council have no legal authority to decide assessment and should not interfere with this process. Assessments should be determined impartially without political pressure. I was doing my job by following the law for the benefit of all the taxpayers of the city of Little Falls.”