Nonprofit groups sue city of Geneva

As threatened, a group of nonprofit agencies has sued the city over the Transportation Benefits Assessment District. Edward Premo of Rochester based firm of Harter, Secrest & Emery filed the lawsuit July 29 in State Supreme Court for Ontario County.The benefits assessment district local law was passed by City Council and is to go into effect Jan 1, 2012. It imposes a fee on all property owners in the city, including those traditionally exempt from property taxes, for the support and maintenance of the city’s streets and related infrastructure. Under the local law, residential properties would be based on the number of housing units and commercial buildings would pay based on square footage.Those fees are projected to raise an estimated $2million in 2012, the cost of the city’s street program.Taxable properties would also pay the fee, but the $2million would be deducted from the tax levy, thus lowering property taxes by an estimated 30%.The nonprofits, led by Hobart and William Smith Colleges, reject the city’s claim that the charge is a special assessment and claim it is truly a tax. The nonprofits also say there were procedural deficits in the local law. The nonprofits listed a number of points in support of their claim and asked the court to declare the local law null and void.Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Finger Lakes Health had offered to pay the city $190,000 in 2012 and a slightly increased amount for each of the next nine years for a total of $2million if the city rescinded the benefit assessment district. The city rejected the offer, prompting the law suit.The city has 20 days to file a response. One possible issue is that one of the plaintiffs, The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester is represented by Harris Beach law firm which also represents the city. This may cause a conflict of interest and require Harris Beach to withdraw from the case.

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