Ogdensburg files motion to dismiss county lawsuit

A judge’s gavel rests on a book of law. Dreamstime/TNS

OGDENSBURG — On Thursday, the city of Ogdensburg filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by St. Lawrence County seeking an order for the city to stop the process of relinquishing its property tax foreclosure authority to the county.

On Sept. 27, the Ogdensburg City Council unanimously voted to change the city charter to make it so the city would stop collecting county property tax on behalf of the county and make the county responsible for the enforcement of unpaid delinquent taxes on behalf of the city. On Nov. 18, a lawsuit was filed in state Supreme Court by St. Lawrence County and its treasurer, Renee Cole, seeking an order to halt the process the city has begun to implement, stating it was against state law.

In a press release issued Friday afternoon, City Manager Stephen P. Jellie stated that Attorney Nicholas S. Cortese from the law firm representing the city, Coughlin & Gerhart, LLP, filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the county and its treasurer.

The release stated five reasons why the lawsuit should be dismissed, including that the county failed to state a claim for declaratory relief; the city’s charter amendments are Constitutional and not inconsistent with any relevant provision of state law; and that the county failed to properly establish the necessity of a preliminary injunction.

Mr. Jellie states that the city’s actions will help reduce the duplication of services and ultimate double-taxation for the same services executed by two levels of local government; cease the county’s ability to force the city to make the county whole for uncollected property taxes in order for the city to execute foreclosure actions; commit the county to providing the same level of service to the city as it does for all other local governments; reduce “overbearing local property tax rates” that are chasing both businesses and residents out of the county.

“This latest action, a lawsuit against a small city government, to block a common sense consolidation effort affirms the County’s commitment to being uncooperative and spiteful toward the City,” stated Mr. Jellie, “The County’s assertion that it should not execute property tax foreclosure is yet another greedy attempt by the County to coerce the City into paying the County for uncollected property taxes in order for the City to have a chance at foreclosing on property and recuperating funds.”

The release states that it’s not possible for two local government entities to execute property foreclosure simultaneously, “therefore the City has been forced to make the County whole on property tax delinquencies so it could be the sole foreclosure action and not have the County block the action with their superior foreclosure action; pure bad government and historic inefficiency.”

When reached Friday afternoon, County Attorney Stephen Button declined to comment on the latest legal action.

The motion to dismiss by the city follows the Ogdensburg City School District authorizing a law firm on Wednesday to file claims against the city stating that it is violating state law in changing its city charter to require St. Lawrence County to make the district whole in unpaid taxes.

“By adopting Local Law -2 of 2021, the City amended the City’s Charter to assign all tax enforcement and collections on behalf of the City and the City school district to the County of St. Lawrence. This attempt to “delegate” responsibility for enforcement and collection of taxes due to the City school district violates New York State Law,” stated a release from the school district.

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