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Decision No. 14,067

Appeal of THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE HUDSON FALLS CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT from action of Gerald Carozza, District Superintendent of the Sole Supervisory District of Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex Counties and the South Glens Falls Central School District regarding a school district boundary.

Decision No. 14,067

(December 24, 1998)

Bartlett, Pontiff, Stewart & Rhodes, P.C., attorneys for petitioner, Martin D. Auffredou, Esq., of counsel

Judge and Duffy, attorneys for respondents, Monica A. Duffy, Esq., of counsel

 

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the determination of Gerald Carozza, District Superintendent of the Sole Supervisory District of Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex Counties ("respondent Carozza"), that established a boundary between the Hudson Falls Central School District and the South Glens Falls Central School District. Petitioner seeks an order by the Commissioner reversing that part of the decision of respondent Carozza that finds that parcel 18.1 is in the South Glens Falls Central School District, and requests that such order determine that parcel 18.1 is in the Hudson Falls Central School District. The appeal must be dismissed.

This appeal concerns a boundary dispute between the Hudson Falls Central School District and the South Glens Falls Central School District. The Hudson Falls Central School District straddles the Hudson River. Most of the school district is located on the east side of the river, but a portion is located on the west side. It is the portion on the west side of the river, which was designated parcel 18 prior to 1992, that was at issue in the proceeding before respondent Carozza. This is property owned by the Niagara Mohawk Power Company (NIMO). From 1953 until 1992, this parcel had been on the tax rolls of the Hudson Falls Central School District. No students reside on the property at issue.

In 1991, Albert Clarke, then Assistant District Superintendent of the Saratoga-Warren Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), while doing a boundary study for the entire BOCES, found what he believed to be an error in the tax rolls relating to taxable property of the South Glens Falls Central School District. He found the error when he could not locate a portion of the boundary for the South Glens Falls School District on the tax map covering the district. After further investigation, and based on the boundary description contained in a boundary alteration order, effective July 1, 1953 and agreed to by both the Hudson Falls Central School District and the South Glens Falls Central School District, he determined that a portion of parcel 18 should be in the South Glens Falls Central School District pursuant to Education Law "1507.

Assistant District Superintendent Clarke advised Warren Ramsey, the Assistant Director of the Saratoga County Real Property Tax Services, of the boundary change and asked him to draw a new tax map for parcel 18. In accordance with Mr. Clarke's direction, Mr. Warren divided the property into three parcels. Two of the parcels, 18.1 and 18.3, were transferred from the Hudson Falls Central School District to the South Glens Falls Central School District. The third, 18.2, remained in the Hudson Falls Central School District. The Town of Moreau Assessor changed the 1992 tax rolls to reflect the corrected tax map.

The property of former parcel 18 is being developed into the Moreau Industrial Park. As a result, it is becoming more valuable as taxable property. Six of the 26 lots in the industrial park are planned for parcel 18.1, the parcel at issue in this proceeding. The remaining 20 lots are in parcel 18.2, which is located in the Hudson Falls Central School District and is not in dispute in this proceeding.

Hudson Falls Central School District learned of the change in the tax rolls, which removed parcels 18.1 and 18.3 from its school district, when it received its 1992 tentative assessment rolls. A series of legal proceedings followed which are discussed in Appeal of the Board of Education of the South Glens Falls Central School District, 29 Ed Dept Rep 412. These proceedings resulted in Hudson Falls asking respondent Carozza, pursuant to Education Law "2215(1), to determine the proper location of the boundary between the two districts. A hearing was held before respondent Carozza over a three-day period, on June 8, 9 and 30, 1995. At the conclusion of that hearing, respondent Carozza determined that parcel 18.1 was properly within the South Glens Falls Central School District but that parcel 18.3 was not properly within South Glens Falls and should be returned to Hudson Falls. He also determined that parcel 18.2 was properly within Hudson Falls. In this proceeding, petitioner Hudson Falls Central School District appeals respondent Carozza's determination that parcel 18.1 is in the South Glens Falls Central School District. Also, respondent South Glens Falls disagrees that parcel 18.3 belongs in the Hudson Falls Central School District. There is no disagreement among the parties that parcel 18.2 belongs in Hudson Falls.

Petitioner Hudson Falls claims that the testimony and evidence at the hearing before respondent Carozza demonstrates that the original intent of the school districts was to include parcel 18.1 in the Hudson Falls Central School District, that parcel 18.1 should be returned to Hudson Falls because its removal will adversely impact the finances of the school district and that respondent Carozza's new boundary line description is erroneous and ambiguous.

Respondent South Glens Falls Central School District claims that the evidence establishes that parcel 18.1 is properly within its school district, that equitable arguments are irrelevant to a proceeding brought pursuant to "2215 of the Education Law, and that respondent Carozza's boundary line description was correct. Respondent Carozza also denies that the evidence establishes that parcel 18.1 should properly be in the Hudson Falls Central School District.

I have reviewed the evidence in this matter and find respondent Carozza's decision reasonable and supported by the record evidence. The 1953 boundary alteration order transfers a portion of the Hudson Falls Central School District to the South Glens Falls Central School District. The transferred portion was part of former Common School District Number 9 Moreau; the remaining area of the common school district stayed with Hudson Falls. Specifically, the boundary alteration order transfers from the Hudson Falls Central School District to the South Glens Falls Central School District:

All that property in the Town of Moreau, Saratoga County, lying generally west of a line beginning in the Hudson River at the point where Saratoga, Warren, and Washington Counties meet; thence southerly to an iron pipe (#37A) in the westerly boundary of the property of the Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation; thence southerly and westerly along the westerly boundary line of the said power corporation to the intersection of the roads known as Fenimore Avenue and Main Street in the hamlet of Fenimore, Town of Moreau, Saratoga County; thence southerly along the center line of Fenimore Avenue to a point where the said center line intersects the northerly boundary of Moreau District 9 school house lot; thence along the northerly and easterly boundary of the school house lot to the center of the town road leading from the school house to the Hudson River bridge; thence easterly along the center line of this road to the westerly boundary of of [sic] the right of way of the branch line of the Delaware and Hudson Railroad leading to the Fenimore Mill of the Union Bag and Paper Corporation; thence southerly along the westerly boundary of the branch railroad right of way to the southerly boundary of School District No. 9, Town of Moreau.

By its terms, the boundary alteration order provides that property to the west of the railroad right of way is allocated to the South Glens Falls School District. This is the boundary which in dispute. It divides parcel 18.1 from the remaining two parcels to the east, 18.2 and 18.3, which respondent Carozza found to be in the Hudson Falls Central School District.

Respondent Carozza placed great weight on the testimony of Dr. F. Donald Myers, who was District Superintendent of one of the affected supervisory districts at the time the 1953 boundary alteration order was executed. Dr. Myers was one of the signatories of the 1953 order. Dr. Myers testified that he participated in the discussions with State Education Department officials, representatives of both the South Glens Falls and the Hudson Falls school districts, and the district superintendent of the other affected supervisory district, relating to the development of the boundary line description which was memorialized in the boundary alteration order, and that he himself drew the boundary map that was attached to the order.

Dr. Myers testified that South Glens Falls became a central school district in 1945. Adjacent to the South Glens Falls Central School District to the east was Common School District Number 9 Moreau. It is the property of Common School District Number 9 Moreau that is the subject matter of the 1953 boundary alteration order. Dr. Myers testified that when South Glens Falls was centralized in 1945, it was decided that Common School District Number 9 Moreau should not be incorporated within the central school district. It was agreed that the decision as to where Moreau common school district should be located would wait until the Hudson Falls school district was centralized.

Dr. Myers testified that the issue did not arise again until the 1951-52 school year, when Hudson Falls wanted to examine becoming a central school district. Dr. Myers testified that two factors were considered when setting the border between the South Glens Falls and Hudson Falls; the best interests of the children, and ensuring that Hudson Falls could financially support a centralized school district. Dr. Myers testified that it was decided that Hudson Falls would receive a portion of the common school district's property along the Hudson River on which NIMO planned to build a $50 million dam, to help the new central district meet its financial obligations. As it turned out, the proposed dam was never actually built at that site. Dr. Myers testified that it was decided that students in the Moreau Common School District Number 9 would attend South Glens Falls. Dr. Myers testified that he and the other parties discussing the location of the boundary line, including the other affected district superintendent and representatives of both districts, wanted to ensure that students could be easily transported to school. There was a concern about whether the bridge to Hudson Falls would remain open. Also, they wanted to guard against students on one side of a road going to South Glens Falls and students on the other side going to Hudson Falls. As a result, residential properties and the school house property of the common school district were transferred to South Glens Falls.

Dr. Myers testified about the boundary description in the 1953 boundary alteration order. He testified that Common School District Number 9 Moreau was split by a railroad right of way running through the district and that this is the boundary between the two school central school districts. He also pointed out the location where the railroad right of way left the southerly boundary of Common School District Number 9, which is the end of the boundary line description. He testified that there was no other railroad line in the area at issue.

Warren Ramsey, Assistant Director of the Saratoga County Real Property Tax Services, a licensed land surveyor with 20 years of experience, testified that it was possible for his staff to locate the railroad spur line running through the property in question using available maps, and that his staff was able to draw the railroad spur on the tax map. He testified that the railroad spur line at issue was not actually on a right of way because the track was owned and maintained by Union Bag and Paper Company and was located on land owned by that company. However, he testified that it is reasonable to conclude that the boundary line referred to in the 1953 boundary alteration order as a railroad right of way is the railroad track that ran through the property.

Albert Clarke, Assistant Superintendent for the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES testified that in his former position he studied all of the school district boundaries in the Saratoga-Warren Supervisory District. He testified that District Superintendent Evans wanted the study to identify and resolve boundary problems of school districts within the supervisory district. Mr. Clarke testified that when he tried to trace the boundary of the South Glens Falls Central School District on the tax map, "the boundary fell off the map." He testified that no boundary existed in the area at issue. Mr. Clarke testified that he asked Dr. Myers about the boundary and Dr. Myers advised him about the 1953 boundary alteration order. Mr. Clarke testified that he found that order in the files of the former Saratoga-Warren Supervisory District, but could not locate a copy of the map that was supposed to be attached to the boundary alteration order there or elsewhere.

Mr. Clarke testified that he asked Mr. Ramsey to draw a new tax map based on the boundary description contained in the 1953 boundary alteration order. Mr. Clarke also testified that he made an error and that parcel 18.3, a narrow shoreline parcel just south of parcel 18.2, was part of former parcel 18. When he asked Mr. Ramsey to draw the tax map, Mr. Clarke was under the impression that parcel 18.3 was outside the boundary of former parcel 18.

Dr. Zeis, Superintendent of the Hudson Falls Central School District, testified that he found a copy of the 1953 boundary alteration order in the files of the Town Clerk and the school district, but could not find a copy of the map that was purportedly attached.

Petitioner claims that the testimony and evidence at the hearing before respondent Carozza demonstrated that the original intent of the school districts was to include parcel 18.1 in the Hudson Falls Central School District. Petitioner states that the minutes of an October 22, 1952 joint meeting of the school districts is evidence that the parties did not intend for parcel 18.1 to be included in the South Glens Falls Central School District. In the minutes, a South Glens Falls board member was reported as stating, that ". . . his district was prepared to take the pupils with the lesser valuation represented by the non-power properties of the Moreau District, while the power properties along the river would be included within the new district centering around the Village of Hudson Falls." The minutes went on to say that, "A lengthy discussion followed relative to possible locations of the division or boundary line, with the following description of same finally agreed upon . . . ." The description that followed was similar to the description that appeared in the boundary alteration order. With respect to the border at issue here, it followed the railroad right of way in the same manner as the boundary description contained in the order.

I do not find that the minutes prove that the parties intended to transfer parcel 18.1 to Hudson Falls. Quite the contrary, I find the minutes to be evidence that the parties intended to transfer parcel 18.1 to South Glens Falls. Like the boundary description in the consent order, the boundary description in the minutes followed the railroad right of way, putting parcel 18.1 in South Glens Falls, not Hudson Falls. Respondent Carozza's determination found parcels 18.2 and 18.3, consisting of NIMO property along the Hudson River, to be in Hudson Falls.

Petitioner claims that the fact that parcel 18.1 was in the Hudson Falls Central School District for nearly forty years is evidence that it was intended to be located in that district. Assistant Superintendent Clarke testified that the tax map had no boundary line separating Hudson Falls and South Glens Falls in the area of parcel 18.1. Three witnesses, Assistant Superintendent Clarke, former District Superintendent Myers and the Assistant Director of the Saratoga County Real Property Tax Services, Warren Ramsey, testified as to the proper location of the boundary as set forth in the 1953 boundary alteration order. The tax rolls did not follow the boundary for the district provided in the boundary alteration order. The fact that the property has been incorrectly assessed for nearly 40 years does not balance the equities in favor of petitioner, when the transfer was apparently in error (Appeal of the Board of Education of the Fort Edward Union Free School District, 33 Ed Dept Rep 457).

Petitioner also claims that the boundary description contained in the 1953 boundary alteration order is ambiguous and does not support the conclusion that parcel 18.1 belongs in South Glens Falls. Petitioner states that the second course in the boundary description that reads, "thence southerly and westerly along the westerly boundary line of the said power corporation to the intersection of the roads known as Fenimore Avenue and Main Street in the hamlet of Fenimore, Town of Moreau, Saratoga County," is in error. I agree that there is a mistake in this description. It should have read "thence southerly and easterly," not "southerly and westerly." However, I do not find that this error makes the boundary line at issue in this proceeding ambiguous. First, it does not involve the portion of the boundary at issue, the portion that segregates parcel 18.1 from parcel 18.2. Second, the description can still be easily followed, even though it has a defect because it follows the western boundary of NIMO property to a crossroad.

In addition, petitioner contends that the description is ambiguous because there was no railroad "right of way" that bisected former parcel 18, although petitioner does not deny that a railroad spur line bisected the parcel. Petitioner suggests that it is conceivable that all of former parcel 18 up to a road far to the west of the railroad spur line, Bluebird Road, is part of the railroad right of way. He also suggests that the right of way is located in another part of the border, significantly to the south and west. These suggestions are simply not reasonable. It is clear that the original intent of the parties was that the boundary should follow the railroad spur line. The description leads directly to that spur line. There is no other railroad line in the area. The fact there was no need for a technical "right of way" does not make the description ambiguous. In this context, it is reasonable to believe that the phrase was used in the colloquial sense to mean the land under the railroad track. I find the description in the boundary alternation order to be clear.

Petitioner also claims that the respondent Carozza failed to consider the financial consequences that removal of parcel 18.1 would have on the Hudson Falls Central School District. The hearing before respondent Carozza was initiated by Hudson Falls, pursuant to Education Law "2215. Under this provision of the Education Law, a district superintendent of schools has the power and duty to ascertain whether the boundaries of the school districts within his supervisory district are definitely and plainly described in the record of the proper town clerk, and to cause such description to be amended, or an amended record of the boundaries to be filed, in the event that the boundary is found to be indefinite, defective or in dispute. In making such a determination, the issue before the district superintendent is the narrow legal issue of where the true boundary is located, and the district superintendent does not have discretion to consider equitable factors such as the relative educational interests of the two school districts (Appeal of Salerni, 27 Ed Dept Rep 393; aff'dSchuylerville CSD v. Commissioner of Education, Supreme Court, Albany County, Special Term, October 26, 1988, n.o.r.; aff'd 152 AD2d 241 [3rd Dept. 1989]). Accordingly, it would have been improper for respondent Carozza to determine that parcel 18.1 should be returned to Hudson Falls because of the financial impact on the district of losing it. While in this case respondent Carozza considered the evidence of financial impact on Hudson Falls, he found it to be unpersuasive. The fact that he considered such evidence is harmless.

Petitioner claims that the new boundary description, appended to respondent Carozza's decision as Appendix A, contains numerous errors that make the new boundary ambiguous. Petitioner claims that such errors are evident from a review of the boundary map appended to the decision as Appendix B, but provides no other substantiation of this claim. I have examined each of the purported errors and find that, except for one, they follow the route of the boundary map. In an appeal before the Commissioner, petitioner has the burden of establishing the facts upon which he or she seeks relief (8 NYCRR 275.10; Appeal of the Board of Education of the South Glens Falls Central School District, supra; Appeal of Parrish, et al., 32 Ed Dept Rep 261). Petitioner has not met this burden in reference to the purported errors in the new boundary description, except in one instance.

I find that there is an error in the second numbered paragraph of the boundary description contained in Appendix A. The second paragraph of the description incorrectly indicates that the distance on Ferry Boulevard is "200 + feet." It should read:

Southerly and southwesterly along the centerline of Ferry Boulevard a distance of 2000 + feet to its point of intersection with the northwesterly extension of the northeasterly bounds of parcel number 37.00-2-1; thence

The map reads "2000 + feet," and respondent Carozza acknowledges that the "200" figure is a typographical error. I will order that this single correction to the boundary description contained in Appendix A be made. I will also order the refiling of the decision, Appendix A as revised, and Appendix B, in accordance with the requirements of Education Law "2215.

Finally, in its pleadings, respondent South Glens Falls Central School District denies that parcel 18.3 is properly within the Hudson Falls Central School District. At the hearing, the Assistant Director of the Saratoga County Real Property Tax Services, Warren Ramsey, testified that he changed the tax map at the direction of BOCES Assistant Superintendent Albert Clarke. Mr. Clarke testified that he made an error in reference to parcel 18.3, and that in fact this parcel belonged to former parcel 18. The implication is that Mr. Clarke believed that parcel 18.3 was further to the south than in fact it is -- putting it incorrectly in the South Glens Falls School District. Respondent South Glens Falls failed to present adequate evidence during the hearing to support its contention that parcel 18.3 was properly transferred from Hudson Falls to South Glens Falls in 1992. Respondent Carozza's decision to return parcel 18.3 to Hudson Falls is supported by the evidence in the record.

I have reviewed petitioner's remaining contentions and find them to be without merit. Respondent Carozza's decision is reasonable and supported by the testimony and documentary evidence that was before him. Parcel 18.1 is properly located within the South Glens Falls Central School District, and parcels 18.2 and 18.3 are properly located within the Hudson Falls Central School District.

THE APPEAL IS DISMISSED.

IT IS ORDERED that paragraph 2 of Appendix A of the boundary line determination dated November 3, 1995 of respondent District Superintendent Gerald Carozza, relating to the boundary line between the Hudson Falls Central School District and the South Glens Falls Central School District, be amended to correct a typographically error in accordance with this decision; and that the entire boundary

determination, including the decision, Appendix A as revised, and Appendix B be filed in accordance with the requirements of Education Law "2215.

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