The Lewis Family Farm assessment was lowered from over $6 million to just over $2.1 million for 2011 and just over $2.3 million in 2012-2016.
After months of negotiations and litigation, the feud between the town of Essex and Lewis Family Farm has been settled with Salim “Sandy” Lewis walking away with a much smaller tax bill.
In a settlement agreed upon by both sides and approved by Essex County Judge Richard Meyer, the Lewis Family Farm will see a drastic drop in its assessed property value, dropping from $6.03 million to $2,158,200 for the 2011 tax year and $2,341,690 for tax years 2012 through 2016, to reflect the construction of two cattle-based facilities.
“This is a court-stipulated and agreed-upon settlement between the town and the farm,” Lewis said. “This matter was unique because we have not paid taxes for the past three years, and this settlement applies back three years as well as forward three years. They also got no interest and they got no penalties from us.”
Essex Supervisor Sharon Boisen did not want to comment on the litigation itself but did say that the town would have to look carefully at the approaching budget season with a near $4 million in lost assessed value.
“Everything is just settling in and we will have to figure things out,” Boisen said. “The town will have to look at the budget and work through it.”
Members of the town board also approved Aug. 8 moving $50,000 from the general fund of the town budget to the legal fund to help cover the costs of the lawsuit filed by Lewis against the town. The town had previously budgeted $85,000 into its legal fund to start the 2013 fiscal year in anticipation of the case along with standard legal fees.
“I told them from day one that they were going to lose, and this town has now been billed over $100,000 to litigate this matter,” Lewis said.
Lewis said he felt this case had the same theme as his case against the Adirondack Park Agency.
“These things speak to the behavior of government,” Lewis said. “The APA’s attitude was on trial in that case and there have been some changes since. Whether that will cut the deck, I don’t know.
“With this case, again, a citizen raises his hand and said I don’t think this is right and again, the citizen is proven correct,” Lewis continued. “At the end of the day, what you are really seeing is people being told to quit misusing their authority. You saw that message with the APA and now you have seen that message with the town of Essex.”
Lewis said he still feels that he was a target of the system.
“This is the last thing that I wanted to do. I didn’t want to sue, and I didn’t want to fight,” he said. “But this was a capricious, horrible misuse of authority. It is dead wrong what they did, and the court has recognized this. We got clammed, and it probably goes back five to 10 years. As far as I am concerned, it is clear, this was a conspiracy to get the Lewises.”