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St. Lawrence County can take title to Butternut Hill

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GOUVERNEUR — St. Lawrence County Court Judge Jerome J. Richards has determined that the owner of Butternut Hill must pay back taxes on the apartment complex or lose the property to St. Lawrence County even though state Supreme Court has not ruled yet on the company’s lawsuit with the village of Gouverneur over water bills.

“It’s very disappointing treatment,” said Peter L. Hoffman, the owner of YNGH. “I haven’t had time to decide what I’m going to do. The choices are pay, appeal or get a stay.”

YNGH has until Jan. 31 to pay approximately $225,000 in back taxes, including penalties and interest, on the 40-unit complex. YNGH bought the complex — then known as Quarry Lanes — at a county tax sale in 2006.

In 2009, Mr. Hoffman sued the village, alleging overcharges for water, unequal treatment based on fees for different multi-unit complexes and for imposing a rate that he said was not legally adopted.

He refused to pay water and sewer charges, which became part of delinquent taxes which were returned to the county. The county reimbursed Gouverneur and included the unpaid village tax in the foreclosure proceeding.

In July, the county sought to foreclose so it could sell the property at the October tax sale. The complex was withdrawn from the sale for the court to rule on several issues that could have put off the foreclosure until the legitimacy of the water and sewer charges were determined.

Judge Richards determined that he had no jurisdiction to determine whether the process used by the village for water and sewer bills was legally flawed. Instead, he awarded the county title to the property.

County Attorney Michael C. Crowe said he presumed Mr. Hoffman would pay the back taxes rather than lose the property.

The property is listed for sale at $1.65 million.

Mayor Ronald P. McDougall said he was pleased by the decision.

“Certainly this takes care of part of the issues,” he said.

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