State Assemblyman Matt Simpson, R-Horicon, and Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, introduced legislation in Albany last week to require the state to pay property taxes on closed correctional facilities.
Tax payments would offset the economic impact of lost jobs and lost commerce when a correctional facility is closed and remains vacant, Simpson said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
The state would be required to pay local government, school and special district taxes, based on the facility’s assessed value, from the time of the closing until either the property is transferred to a private owner or the state reuses it for another purpose.
The state does not pay property taxes on a correctional facility that is in use.
“That’s somewhat understandable when there’s a benefit,” Simpson said. “Basically, the community has grown around the prison.”
But the state has a responsibility to stabilize the economy of a community when a correctional facility closes, he added.
The legislation, which Simpson introduced last Monday, had 12 Assembly cosponsors, all Republicans, as of Wednesday.
Stec introduced companion legislation in the state Senate.
“The state has a poor track record at closing these facilities and then walking away from them,” Stec said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “Maybe this will motivate them.”
There are about 30 closed correctional facilities that are vacant in the state.
The Mount McGregor Correctional Facility in Wilton, Moreau and Corinth closed in 2014 and remains unused.
Most of the buildings are in Moreau, with surrounding land in the other towns.
Moreau Supervisor Todd Kusnierz said the concept of the legislation is sound, but it might be more realistic to push the state to pay a “host fee” to be negotiated with towns in lieu of taxes.
“There were jobs that were lost,” he said. “It would be very helpful if the state would reimburse the towns for that loss.”
The Moriah Shock Correctional Facility in Essex County, closed in March 2022, and remains unused.
Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava said he had been discussing the conception of the legislation with Simpson for several months.
“I initially had those discussions with Matt a while back,” Scozzafava said in a telephone on Thursday. “I think it’s only right.”
Scozzafava said the state currently pays a sewage system fee, but does not pay property taxes on the facility, valued at nearly $20 million.
A private company that shuts down an operation is not exempt from property taxes, he said.
Scozzafava said the best reuse of the Moriah facility would be for a state agency of some sort.
He said the state has plans to build a new Adirondack Park Agency building and has been discussing establishing a second New York State Police Academy and a state police forensics campus — any of which would be suitable for the Moriah site and cost less than new construction.
“The most reasonable option, the most fiscally responsible option, would be for the state to reuse it,” he said.
Simpson said the legislation is intended to encourage the state to find new uses for closed correctional facilities and also to exercise more forethought before closing facilities in the future.
“There should be a plan for moving forward before a facility is closed,” he said.
Stec said he appreciates that Hochul appointed a commission to develop plans for reusing closed correctional facilities, and he’s hopeful the commission will be productive.
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