At the regular meeting of the Westchester County Board of Legislators on Monday, September 10th, Legislator David Gelfarb (R-Harrison, Rye Brook, Port Chester), implored his Legislative colleagues to support Legislation that authorizes the County Attorney to join in a court action to defend the Town of Rye against a lawsuit by a company operating at the Westchester County Airport. The Board of Legislators joined Legislator Gelfarb in a unanimous 16-0 vote to authorize the County Attorney to join the court proceedings. The County will be represented by the same law firm, Oxman Tulis, et al., that is representing the Town of Rye, at no financial cost to the County.
The Company, Signature Flight Services, is suing to have its taxable status changed to tax-exempt for the years 2008-2011. If Signature Flight Services were to prevail in Supreme Court, the Town of Rye would have to refund all of the property taxes paid by Signature since 2008. The total amount refunded would be approximately $3 million, with more than $400,000 coming from Westchester County.
Following the vote, Legislator Gelfarb said, "This was a critically important vote and I want to thank the entire Board of Legislators for joining me in defending the Town of Rye, the Village of Rye, the Blind Brook School District and Westchester County against a lawsuit that could be devastating to our municipal budgets. I am especially grateful to Legislator Judy Myers, Chair of the Budget and Appropriations Committee and to Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins for helping me to get this legislation through an expedited yet thorough committee hearing process." Legislator Gelfarb continued, "Prior to the Board's vote, we engaged in some very spirited and thoughtful debate on the merits of the County's position as well as other associated issues raised by the County's involvement. In the end, the entire Legislature joined together for a vote that demonstrates our bipartisan commitment to protecting the taxpayers from this unprecedented attempt by Signature Flight Services to avoid paying its lawful tax obligations."
Signature Flight Services leases its space at the airport from Westchester County. County Attorney Robert Meehan seeks to intervene in the case because Signature Flight Services' claim that it is not required to pay property taxes is in violation of the company's lease with Westchester County. The County attorney cites this passage from the lease:
Lessee shall have the right, at its own cost and expense, to institute an action which the County as owner of the Leased Premises could institute pursuant to Article 7 of the Real Property Tax Law or otherwise to obtain judicial review of the Assessment of the Leased Premises. If any Real Estate Taxes as may be assessed against the Leased Premises are reduced as a result of such action, the Lessee shall be entitled to the full benefit thereof, including any refund payable to Lessee resulting therefrom. Lessee hereby waives any right otherwise available to it to seek a judicial determination with respect to the non-exempt taxable status of the Leased Premises.
Signature is a Fixed Base Operator which leases facilities from Westchester County at the County Airport. A Fixed Base Operator provides support services such as fueling, hangaring and parking to general aviation operators at publicly owned airports