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Irondequoit, Brighton sue county over maintenance fee policy


[ UPDATED] The towns of Brighton and Irondequoit are suing the county over a policy change that they say will limit their ability to address abandoned, neglected, and problem properties.

The lawsuit, filed late yesterday in State Supreme Court, challenges a county decision to stop reimbursing towns for maintenance or demolition charges they've added to delinquent tax bills. Town leaders — Republicans and Democrats — were unhappy about the decision. (Brighton and Irondequoit have Democratic town governments, and County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo is a Republican.)

Towns often mow untended lawns, secure abandoned houses, and tear down dilapidated buildings that pose a threat to the public, and typically they add charges for the work to the properties' tax bills.

The towns don't have the authority to foreclose on tax delinquent properties, however, and they have to rely on the county to pursue those debts. But the county argues that the maintenance and demolition fees aren't truly property taxes and that it is under no obligation to reimburse towns for those fees.

Irondequoit and Brighton officials disagree with that position and say it would cost each town hundreds of thousands of dollars to do the maintenance and demo work without some way of recouping expenses.

"The county should be a partner with towns in addressing these blighted properties," says a joint press release from Brighton Supervisor Bill Moehle and Irondequoit Supervisor Dave Seeley. "Rather, they have opted instead to penalize towns working to combat blight and significantly weaken our enforcement of these troubled properties."

A county spokesperson issued a statement this afternoon.

"While the county does not respond to pending litigation, in this case it is impossible given the fact that it is not in receipt of the purported lawsuit," wrote county spokesperson Brett Walsh. "We are confident that the courts and the public will see that the county meets its obligations to our municipal partners. This suit by two towns attempts to force residents in other towns throughout this county to subsidize their town budgets."

This post has been updated to add a comment from the county.