By Dan Hust
SOUTH FALLSBURG The SYDA Foundation, one of the area’s largest religious organizations, has struck an agreement with the Town of Fallsburg regarding a slew of tax-exempt parcels.
Approved by both the foundation and the Fallsburg Town Board, the agreement stipulates that SYDA will pay the township $35,000 a year through 2011 in exchange for the town dropping its bid to keep more than two dozen SYDA properties on the tax rolls.
The county, according to County Treasurer Ira Cohen, will receive $10,000 a year out of that $35,000 annual payment, though he’s not pleased that the Fallsburg Central School District was not a party to the agreement.
“We would not consent to a settlement that didn’t involve the school district,” he said.
The county, however, didn’t have a say in the matter. The agreement was signed by township and SYDA officials.
Though this represents the cessation of a three-year battle, both sides gained and lost ground in what has been an ongoing struggle over tax-exempt properties.
SYDA got Fallsburg to restore several parcels (mostly housing) to the tax-exempt rolls, though the township, county and school get to keep the taxes they already collected on those properties.
Fallsburg got SYDA to agree that any new properties it purchases will remain on the tax rolls, though the agreement terminates should the town once again pursue changing the status of SYDA’s currently tax-exempt properties.
As it has done in the past, SYDA will continue to make voluntary contributions to the township in lieu of taxes “in recognition of the services provided and the current economic conditions affecting the town,” according to language in the agreement.
Through 2011, that will amount to $105,000 (minus $30,000 to the county), though the agreement makes clear that SYDA is not admitting any tax liability by such actions.
“It’s a mixed bag,” Cohen observed. “We are happy SYDA is paying a substantial amount of money, but we think they should be paying more.”
Fallsburg Supervisor Steve Levine doesn’t necessarily disagree with that sentiment.
“We’re challenging any property that comes off the tax rolls,” he said, noting that Fallsburg has lowered its overall amount of tax-exempt properties from the mid-40s to 38 percent over the past few years.
As for the lack of direct school and county involvement, Levine shrugged it off.
“That’s just the way we worked it out,” he explained.
The school was invited to participate, he said, but “to them, it really doesn’t represent a lot of money.”
“In essence,” he continued, “the school actually did make out because they don’t have to refund taxes,” he said. “It’s a good agreement for everyone.”
Levine acknowledged that such efforts should be “a multi-level fight” but pointed out that school districts rarely involve themselves in that fashion.
Fallsburg School Superintendent Ivan Katz replied, however, that he always wants to be involved.
“We’re happy with the outcome relative to the fact that it doesn’t harm the district,” he said, “but we’re not happy with the fact that we were not included in the conversations.”
Katz insisted the district was not invited to be part of the negotiations and only found out through Cohen.
“We’re not interested in affixing blame,” Katz said. “We [just] think it’s critical for a school district to be involved… even if it’s just our attorney monitoring the case.”
SYDA officials declined to comment, while school attorney Henri Shawn and town attorney Michael Altman did not return a call for comment.