by Rachel Hunter
St. Lawrence County has decided not to include six properties – five residential, and one commercial – in Gouverneur in its upcoming tax foreclosure auction… and that reality drew some discussion from concerned town, village leaders at the August 13 town board meeting.
The topic was raised by Town of Gouverneur Code Enforcement Officer Michael McQuade who said the following: “I received this year’s tax foreclosure list and it was three colors orange, blue and white… Blue is people that paid their taxes, so they wouldn’t be foreclosed on. White, they are in tax sale that is coming up September 15. And then the color orange… I showed (Supervisor Dave Spilman, Jr.) this morning that there are five homes and one commercial property that the county will not take possession of, due to what they feel is not salvageable. I personally, don’t feel that it is right.
“Standpoint 1: They should notify us. Standpoint 2: A village or a town should make that call, not somebody that sits at the county level. Take for instance the house across from Mills Park… that was sold last year at the tax sale for $8,000. The guy had to put $30,000 into it. You go by it right now, it looks like a totally different home with new windows, vinyl siding on the front. I can their feelings on it, but to me, give it a chance. Give to somebody for $1. Give it to him. Say, “Here you’ve got five years to fix it up.”
“Then the other one apparently, the commercial property has contamination, which back in 2011, the tanks were taken out of the ground, and nobody at the county ever got records of it. So, for us being the town and the village both, it comes back on the taxpayer. So we’ve got five homes that are not going up on the tax sale, that are going to sit for another year. If they are not good to sell now, what do you think they are going to look like in a year?”
Supervisor Spilman then said, “They are probably not going to do anything next year either.”
Town of Gouverneur Deputy Supervisor Eldon Conklin said, “Well, I think the code enforcement officer should have been involved in making the decision…”
Supervisor Spilman then said, “I called the county attorney’s office this morning, and it was a joint effort between the county attorney’s office, Real Property, and the treasurer’s office. There was a group that was formed to take a look at them.
“Mike and I went to take a look at these today. All of these structures are still standing. I mean, I have seen worse that have been brought back to life. But what happens now? They just sit there. If the county took them back, then at least sold them, like Mike said, for $1, just to put them back on tax roll. I voiced my concern to Henry Leader today. I don’t know if he was aware of it by the sound of our conversation. These residential properties are in tough shape, but like Mike said, the one down over the hill… We bid on it at the tax sale last year. I knew what we would be getting with it. We were going to level the place, but this guy is rebuilding it, and he has done a good job doing it. I don’t know. It doesn’t set well with me either. And all five of these properties are in the Village.”
Deputy Supervisor Conklin then commented, “If the foundation and the basic structure of the property is sound, why then it is salvageable, I would think.”
Supervisor Spilman then said, “I don’t know what our next step would be.”
Town Councilwoman Jaimee McQuade then commented as follows: “Well they are just going to sit there. I think it is awful, I agree… My sister bought one three or four years ago for $2,000. My father gutted it, and rebuilt it. It had water coming out of the walls. The water was off. It shot out of walls, out of the ceiling. She took six Dumpsters out of 900 sq. foot house… if that tells you anything. If there is a will, there’s a way. I don’t know why in this world we are not just giving them to families…”
Gouverneur Fire Chief Thomas Conklin then said, “We’ve been in two vacant properties that were vacant from fire calls from reports from other people about incidents there. There’s been junk paraphernalia found in it. I know that two I have been to myself this year where it is vacant, and we were called there for some reason. The smoke alarm batteries are dead, and the neighbor thinks the smoke alarm is going off. You go in there, and the rooms are littered with drug paraphernalia.”
“The County is setting it up for that,” Councilwoman McQuade said. “We’ve got to look at it, and then we’ve got to pay for cutting the grass, snow removal on the sidewalks… Who is paying for that? It’s terrible.
“It’s a terrible decision,” Supervisor Spilman said. “Goes to show you that the County isn’t right about everything.” He then encouraged all those gathered to voice their opinions to St. Lawrence County Legislator District 5 Henry Leader (R-Gouverneur) the next time they saw him.
During his time for comments, Village of Gouverneur Mayor Ron McDougall made the following comments on the issue: “Zombie properties, for lack of a better term… The towns and the villages throughout the county have certainly done a lot of lobbying, I guess you could say a full-court press, on the sales tax issue. I know some legislators, some, that if there is a sales tax question in the towns and the villages, will not even go to their town and the village boards and say, “Well, I voted for the sales tax cut. Politically in the future, if you are thinking about running for a countywide office in St. Lawrence County and you are a legislator and you voted to cut the sales tax to local municipalities, forget it. I don’t care what party you are in, it’s not going to work.
“So, all of a sudden, we sort of get hit. We have six properties, five homes and one commercial. So I am just taking a venture that there are 60, or many more than that countywide, maybe closer to 100. So, it’s interesting because there’s going to be a big pushback on this. I don’t think it is right. The town board doesn’t think it is right. Mike doesn’t think it is right. (Village Trustee Troy Besaw) doesn’t think it is right. I think some of these places can be salvaged. A great example is on Mill St., which Mike alluded to…. There’s a case in point, an example to the county. That’s just my soapbox on this listening to Mike and the town board here. We’ll get at this. We’ll lobby this too.
“A little discouraging, but maybe it shows that the Town Supervisors Association and the Mayors Association have made progress on the sales tax issue. I will look at it that way.”
No more comments were expressed on the issue at the town board meeting.
The next meeting of the Town of Gouverneur Council is to be held on Tuesday, September 3, 6 p.m., in the town offices building.