Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava
Within spitting distance of this town’s water treatment plant at the edge of Bartlett Pond is a sprawling half-acre abandoned eyesore that the supervisor of this rural town says is a threat to public health.
In contrast to the tidy-looking treatment facility with beige tin siding that filters water for several thousand community residents, the adjacent property, which straddles an embankment and Bartlett Pond Road, contained three moldering wooden structures in a muddy yard strewn with rusty detritus and piles of trash.
Several tattered signs — Beware of Dog! No Trespassing! — flapped against the wet birch trees last week.
Supervisor Tom Scozzafava made an argument to the board of supervisors last week that the county should hand over the neglected lot to the town as a safeguard of public health.
After some sparring, they gave it to him.
“We want to protect the water supply that protects a few thousand people,” he said. “This is critical.”
Scozzafava said his town couldn’t afford the minimum $23,000 bid at the county tax auction scheduled at the end of the month on top of the estimated $13,000 that it would cost to clean up the “disastrous” compound.
“We can’t even gate it off because we have an easement going into the plant,” he said.
Some lawmakers questioned the precedent that giving towns county-owned land would set.
“If every town wants property so they can turn it around to make a profit off it, then it’d put the county in further bad financial shape,” said Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston. “I think giving property away isn’t in the best interest unless it’s in extenuating circumstances.”
North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi said he had no problem with the transfer but questioned why Moriah didn’t put pressure on the previous owner by sending over a code enforcement officer to crack the whip.
“It wasn’t easy to enforce,” shrugged Scozzafava. “We tried many times. I’m sure behind the glittery main drag of Lake Placid, you have similar structures.”
“I have no problem with it,” Politi conceded.
County Attorney Daniel Manning said the transfer was legal under New York State General Municipal Section 72H, a statute that allows counties to give county property to towns under select circumstances.
“There are lots of situations where this may happen,” he said. “Each request for such transfers should be examined on a case-by-case basis with an eye towards what the municipality needs the property for.”
Lewis Supervisor David Blades recommended that if Moriah ever did decide to sell the property — Scozzafava said that wouldn’t happen — then the town should give the county a percentage of the sale proceeds as a measure of goodwill.
“I only mention that because this is what you requested me to do about 4-5 years ago when we were in the same situation,” he said to Scozzafava.
The board formally voted to kick over the property to Moriah, who would then deed it in perpetuity to the water district, on Monday, April 7.
Preston and Elizabethtown Supervisor Noel Merrihew voted against the transfer.
The discussion follows the county’s tax auction to be held on Wednesday, April 30 when 130 derelict county-seized properties will be auctioned off by the Schroon Lake-based firm Haroff Auction and Realty, including the former Frontier Town property in North Hudson and the Republic Steel Building in Moriah.
Four out of the seven parcels of the decaying former theme park will be auctioned as one package; another two will be bundled together and the others will be auctioned off separately.
The owners of the other properties have two weeks prior to the auction to reclaim their property, said Manning. He said his office will attempt to contact them through the proper legal channels.
The deadline for the owners to respond is Wednesday, April 16.
The sale will cover properties from 2006, 2007 and 2008. The county last held a tax sale in 2006 and aims to hold another this summer for the 2009 properties, with 2010, 2011 and 2012 properties following in the fall.
Afterward, officials hope they can maintain a regular annual schedule of auctions.