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Iroquois seeks drastic assessment drop in four north country towns

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Iroquois Gas Transmission Systems is seeking assessment reductions to one quarter of current values in four different north country towns.

In separate state Supreme Court lawsuits filed at county clerk’s offices in Lowville and Canton, the Connecticut company is requesting reductions in the Lewis County towns of Diana, New Bremen and Leyden assessments, from a combined $32.7 million to $8.2 million, and in St. Lawrence town of Hermon’s value from $14.9 million to $4.1 million.

The challenged parcels encompass portions of the Iroquois natural gas pipeline, along with a meter station in New Bremen.

With Lewis County already anticipating a slight reduction in taxable value for 2013 due partly to grievance day reductions, the gas company’s litigation was not welcome news.

“To add them to what we’ve already lost would certainly be a detriment to the county,” said county Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan.

Local officials will need to find out how the company plans to “substantiate such a dramatic drop,” then do their own investigation to determine how best to defend the assessments, he said.

Last year, Lewis County legislators established a policy allowing them to assist towns in assessment challenges amounting to more than $1 million, with determination made on a case-by-case basis. The county later joined the defense in a lawsuit filed by the city of Rome last year seeking a reduction on its Boyd Dam and Tagasoke Reservoir property in the town of Lewis from $18 million to $5.71 million.

Mr. Tabolt said he would expect the county to “be a player in negotiations” with Iroquois as well, although that matter will need to first be reviewed by the legislative Taxation Committee and approved by the full Legislature.

“I can’t speak for the whole board, but I don’t see us taking this sitting down,” he said.

The three targeted Lewis County towns each raised the assessed value of the Iroquois properties by roughly $800,000 in 2013, leading to increases of between 6 and 9 percent, according to county records.

Leyden and New Bremen both underwent revaluations within the past year, while Diana — slated for a townwide revaluation next year — has made annual adjustments designed to keep properties at market value, said Linda D. Gydesen, director of real property in Lewis County.

Assessors typically base valuations of pipeline properties on advisories from the state Office of Real Property Services, Mrs. Gydesen said.

Three of the five other Lewis County towns with Iroquois properties also showed 8 to 9 percent increases over the past couple of years, but all three have shorter — and, thus, lesser valued — stretches of pipeline passing through them.

The assessment challenges from Iroquois have Darren W. Colton, the director of real property in St. Lawrence County, scratching his head.

The towns of Hermon and Canton, which had its assessment challenged by Iroquois last year, have that county’s highest values for Iroquois because they have the most feet of pipeline. However, the values tend to use the same methodology as those in other towns, Mr. Colton said.

“If you’re unhappy with one, you should be with the others,” he said. “We’ve never had a challenge on the gas line before last year, and it wasn’t everyone.”

In legal documents, Iroquois argued that its Hermon assessment was improperly set because it included land owned by others that it had an easement on for its pipeline.

However, the assessment on the one Iroquois parcel in Hermon is for the pipeline only, according to the tax roll, Mr. Colton said. “When they talk of land being assessed, there is no land being assessed,” he said.

Last year, the company argued that its $14.5 million Canton assessment was not based on common principles and should instead be $1.5 million. The company did not file a similar challenge against the town this year, even though such challenges are often filed at least three years in a row.

Ruth M. Parkins, Iroquois’s public affairs manager, said by email that she doesn’t have details on the challenges, but that the company “does pay its fair share of taxes” in its pipeline communities.

“However, as a routine practice, we monitor increases in the assessments from time to time to ensure we are not paying more than our fair share,” she wrote. “If we feel they are questionable, we will file to challenge them to protect our interests while we evaluate the validity of the assessment. This evaluation may or may not lead us to proceed with any litigation.”

Legal filings this year indicated that Iroquois is also challenging its assessments in four Schoharie County towns.

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