Harte Haven Shopping Center, Johnson Newspapers file lawsuits to cut Massena property tax assessments by millions of dollars
Monday, July 29, 2013 - 5:47 pm

MASSENA -- The owners of Harte Haven Shopping Center and Northern New York Newspapers have filed suit against the town of Massena, claiming property tax assessments are too high, according to Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray.

“The Town of Massena is once again being sued by multi-million dollar companies who feel their property tax assessments are too high,” Gray said in a prepared press release.

The shopping center, located on State Highway 37, is owned by Massena HHSC, Inc. The property is currently assessed at $5,115,560, an amount determined by the Board of Assessment Review after a previous challenge by the owners.

In its filing the corporation says the plaza and property are only worth $2 million.

The Northern New York Newspapers building, also located along State Highway 37, is currently assessed at $2,004,400. The company, owned by the Johnson Newspaper Corp. that publishes the Daily Courier Observer, Ogdensburg Journal and St. Lawrence Plaindealer in St. Lawrence County, claims the building and property are only worth $1 million

“Each year, the Town of Massena is forced to spend thousands of taxpayers’ dollars to defend these baseless legal challenges to its accurate real property assessments. Granted, these multi-million-dollar companies have a right to challenge their assessments but they also have a legal and moral obligation to pay their fair share of property taxes,” Gray said.

“Apparently they feel the rest of the taxpayers in the Town should pay more on their property tax bills so these highly successful companies can pay less. And these challenges continue year in and year out,” he said.

Gray noted the Harte Haven Shopping Center has seen the addition of a Price Chopper and TJ Maxx store in recent years. Several other stores have also relocated to the center, he said.

"The Northern New York Newspapers assessment challenge is even more confusing,” said Gray. When the company moved to Massena from Ogdensburg, the business received a 10-year property tax break in the form of a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement with the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency, according to Gray. The company also received $3 million in tax-free revenue bonds from the County IDA to help finance the project.

In the PILOT agreement, Johnson Newspaper Corp. agreed the Massena property was worth $2.1 million, Gray said.

Almost as soon as the agreement ended, the company challenged its assessment of $2,004,400, an assessment less than the company agreed its building was worth in the PILOT documents, according to Gray.

“Now the Johnsons’ lawyers say their facility is only worth $1 million. So, after the taxpayers help build this huge printing plant with a PILOT agreement and tax-free bonds, the company now wants to shift its fair share of tax burden onto other taxpayers in the Town of Massena,” Gray said.