Essex County Board of Supervisors
Town supervisors faced off against county officials Tuesday, Jan. 21, in an attempt to determine exactly who has ultimate responsibility over foreclosed and condemned properties within Essex County.
Supervisors complained that while the state mandates buildings or structures that code enforcement authorities deem unsafe be condemned or demolished, those costs are currently absorbed by the town and cannot be relevyed on the tax rolls.
“How can you stay under the tax cap when you have a mandate to make something safe and the cost is absorbed by the taxpayers and the county continues to do this,” asked county board of supervisors chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay). “We’re all in the same position.”
Douglas was joined in his concern by a chorus line of supervisors each voicing concerns about decrepit properties in their individual towns.
“If we’re obligated to take something down, do the Moriah taxpayers have to pay that cost,” Finance Committee Chair Tom Scozzafava (R-Moriah) asked county attorney Dan Manning.
“The county doesn’t want to get stuck with the bill,” responded Manning, repeatedly stressing that the law currently cannot allow for property to be relevyed.
Towns have the authority to pass laws to destroy unsafe buildings, explained Manning. Both town and local laws provide that when they are torn down a lien can be placed on the property.
“The question the board is addressing is whether they can assess that on the taxes,” he later said.
The county is still pondering the issue and determining a way forward.
“We’re looking the state for guidance,” Manning said.
This impasse is, in part, why so many eyesores dot the landscape, said Scozzafava, noting that while Moriah has taken several structures down, the town has eaten the cost.
“If the county owns it, and it’s in your town, then they should take care of it,” he said.
Scozzafava highlighted the Old Republic Steel office building in Mineville as another example, a property that the county has owned since the 1980s.
“At one time, they talked about putting county offices there. Something needs to be done — it’s empty,” Scozzafava said. :Either find a use for the building or put it on the market.”
He also expressed concern over condemned structures that still have occupants residing in them, including a lot seized by the county that contains several trailers.
“Let us know who they are,” said county manager Daniel Palmer, “and we’ll start the proceedings.”
An auction is currently scheduled for Wednesday, April 30, that will sell off approximately 150 county-seized properties whose property taxes haven’t been paid since 2006.
The sale will cover properties from 2006, 2007 and 2008 and a yet-to-be-determined number from 2009, said Manning. “Somewhere in the neighborhood of 60, but we’re not sure yet.”
The biggest question mark in the upcoming sale is the former Frontier Town theme park in North Hudson. Split into 10 parcels, taxes haven’t been paid on the properties off Route 9, many of which still contain decayed and unusable recreational infrastructure, since 2006.
The exception is the “A-Frame” entrance building, said North Hudson Town Supervisor Ronald Moore. Taxes have been paid by the owner George Moore of Keeseville (no relation) and the property is currently for sale.
George Moore said he hopes to lure in private developers to transform the property. He also hasn’t ruled out purchasing the surrounding parcels from the county.
“If something’s a real good bargain, then I’ll bid on it,” he said.
George Moore said that ideally, he and the county can work together to find a solution that appeals to both parties.
Ronald Moore is the newly-appointed chair of a task force designed to address the Frontier Town and Mineville properties.
“For those other parcels, we need to determine what the county intends to do and how to move forward,” he said.
Ronald Moore joins fellow lawmakers Scozzafava, Roby Politi (North Elba), Stephen McNally (Minerva) on the task force alongside Manning, Palmer, county treasurer Michael Diskin, Deputy County Manager Michael Mascarenas and Essex County Real Property Tax Services Director Charli Lewis.
The first meeting is scheduled to be held on Wednesday, Jan. 29.
The county last held a tax sale in 2006 and aims to hold another this fall for the 2010, 2011 and 2012 properties, said Douglas.
Despite the death of head auctioneer Edward Haroff earlier this month, the auction will go on as planned, said Diskin.
“We’re not going to see any interruptions or changes.”