There is a right way to conduct business and a wrong way. The way in which the Essex County Board of Supervisors handled the bid from Keeseville businessman George Moore following the recent county tax auction was the wrong way.
For background, George Moore attended the April 30 county tax auction and in good faith bid $49,500 for a cluster of four parcels that once held the popular Frontier Town theme park in North Hudson. The theme park has sat vacant for years, slowly disappearing into the Adirondack wilderness, and taxes have not been paid on the four parcels since 2006.
Moore already owns the large A-frame structure at the entrance of the defunct park, for which taxes are fully paid, and his intent was to purchase the adjoining 88-acres for possible future development of a campground or summer camp.
What happened following the auction is what truly has us puzzled. During a May 12 committee meeting, county supervisors voted 17-0 to reject Moore’s bid and instead accept a $60,000 offer made on behalf of the town of North Hudson by Supervisor Ronald Moore.
Supervisor Moore said county officials had discussed not accepting a bid on the former theme park of less than $146,000, the amount of back taxes owed, and said the 88-acres has considerable value to his town — possibly as a business park — because the small community has virtually no private property available for development.
In our opinion, the supervisor should be commended for his forward thinking, but the sequence of events that led to his offer was completely flawed.
First, if the town were truly interested in the parcel, why not put a representative at the tax sale to bid alongside everyone else? Since the parcels had been seized by the county for back taxes, and therefore by default owned by county taxpayers, wouldn’t it be in the best interest of those taxpayers to receive as much as possible for the properties through competitive bidding?
Sure, county supervisors reserve the right to reject any bid. But in this case they then turned around and totally undermined the bidding process by okaying what, on the surface, appears to be an insider deal with North Hudson.
Supervisors owe it to the taxpayers and to bidders at future tax auctions to conduct these auctions in a fair and transparent manner, otherwise, it will affect how people bid at future auctions.
Secondly, other than a few conversations during previous meetings, we see no record of a minimum bid ever being posted on these parcels. A cursory glance through the material provided to bidders — including George Moore — shows no mention of a minimum bid. We presume this would be the basis of the lawsuit George is threatening — one that supervisors would no doubt spend thousands more in taxpayer dollars defending.
And, even if this unpublished minimum bid truly does exist, the offer on the table from North Hudson comes nowhere near the $146,000 owed in back taxes.
At the same time, placing these parcels in municipal ownership would remove them from both the county and town tax rolls. As much as county supervisors love to bemoan raising taxes, it baffles us that they would want to remove properties with a full market value of $568,900 from the tax rolls.
Finally, Ronald Moore may have the best of intentions, but this property has proven to be an albatross for the private owners who have invested in it, which is why the county is in this pickle with back taxes in the first place. So, why should residents of the town and county believe it can suddenly be converted into the Silicon Valley of the North Country?
It is a super location with great ingress and egress to I-87, but there are a lot of similar locations in the Adirondacks that, like the former Wild West park, contain more tumble weeds than business growth. A look at the dozens of unoccupied industrial parks inside the Blue Line is testament to that.
Perhaps the residents of North Hudson should be given the opportunity to vote on the purchase prior to it taking place.
George Moore has been criticized by some for not developing the one Frontier Town parcel he owns and allowing it to fall further and further into disrepair. In his defense, however, he owned just a small piece of the pie and it now appears he is making an effort to restore the property to something that will benefit the town. We believe he should be given the opportunity to do so.
History has shown the odds of a successful businessman — who pays his taxes, by the way — redeveloping a parcel into an endeavor that will benefit the entire region are far greater than a government entity doing so.
In an effort to avoid litigation, George Moore has now offered $5,000 more for Frontier Town than North Hudson did. The board of supervisors is aligned to potentially vote on the matter during its June 3 regular board meeting.
It is time they clean up this ethical quandary, and accept the bid offered by George Moore.