B y Jaime Thomas
As far as Dana Haff is concerned, the matter is cut and dry. The town of Hartford and Washington County made an agreement nearly two decades ago, and it still stands.
However, due to lack of communication on the part of the county and insufficient payments in Hartford’s eyes, Supervisor Dana Haff filed a request for summary judgment on Jan. 15, Haff said.
The issue in question surrounds the 485-acre Eldridge Lane landfill property the county took ownership of and planned to build on in the early nineties. The town and community didn’t want the landfill, but they agreed to drop opposition under the conditions of a contract that both sides signed, said Robert Winn, Hartford’s attorney.
In turn, the 1994 Host Communities Benefits Agreement said “Washington County shall pay eight thousand dollars per year to the town in lieu of the town taxes on the SWMF property. Washington County shall pay an additional eight thousand dollars per year to the Hartford Central School District in lieu of school taxes.”
When Haff discovered several years ago that the county had stopped making these payments six years ago, he tried to bring the issue up with county officials.
“They gave me no reason why they stopped paying. That, to me, smelled fishy, and so I dug some more,” he said.
But he could not find anyone who would discuss his case. Eventually, the county agreed to pay a portion of these PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, monies. The county deemed it owed nearly $3,000 to the Hartford School District and about $1,000 to the town of Hartford as a total for five years.
“It was pretty insulting; they offered about $250 per year, and we felt we deserved $8,000 per year.” Haff said.
Roger Wickes, Washington County attorney, said the county is doing nothing wrong.
“The agreement was conditional upon the landfill being built. There’s no landfill out there, and we’re paying the correct amount,” he said.
“We believe the contract says what it says — there’s no question that the parties entered into the contract, and there’s no condition precedent in the contract,” he said.
As it stands, Hartford is only going back six years on the payments because of a statute of limitations. Winn said at this point the county has been paying $3,000 per year to the town and $9,000 per year to the school district, neither of which matches the $8,000 agreement.
Additionally, what Haff finds to be a more prevalent issue is the promise the town made to maintain the road leading to the property. The town of Hartford has been maintaining that road and wants the county to pay $73,000 in reimbursement for six years.
Both Haff and Winn feel the issue is not complicated enough for a trial.
“This is such a straightforward case that the judge can make the decision on his own,” Winn said.
The other side feels equally as right.
“They did it, we’ll respond to it, we’ll end up in court and the judge will decide,” Wickes said. “One of three possibilities will happen — Hartford wins, we win or the judge says we need a trial.”
Haff did not necessarily want to take legal action, but he feels the county forced Hartford’s hand.
“Hartford could’ve tucked our tails between our legs and gone home, but we didn’t,” he said.
What all sides do seem to agree on is that the property should be sold to someone who could make better use of it.
“The county really wants to sell that property. We had preliminary discussions of getting it back to something useful instead of it just sitting there,” Wickes said.
Haff thinks there is no reason for the county to keep owing the plot because they no longer need it for a burn plant disposal area.
“I want the land sold to someone who’ll pay taxes on it. Let’s sell the property or do something to develop it,” he said. “The town of Hartford wants some closure. That’s why we went this route, because it’ll bring us closure one way or another.”
The case was transferred from Judge Hall to the newly elected Judge Clark and will be heard in Washington County Court. The oral argument, which is open to the public, is scheduled at 11 a.m., on March 28.