Monday, January 16th, 2017

Arcadia Supervisor wants abandoned properties back on tax rolls

It comes down to who would actually be in line for cleaning up three properties that have defaulted on their taxes for a number of years. Then, there is the question of the County paying school, village, and town taxes on the properties, if they did indeed put them back on the tax rolls.

Wayne County adopted a procedure back in late 1960s that they would be the municipality responsible for paying out collected property taxes to villages, towns and school districts. This method simplified tax collection, especially in cases where the taxes became delinquent. Instead of four separate entities filling suits and liens, the County became the lead agency. If a property owner failed to pay taxes, after a period of time the property was seized and sold at auction. This required the County to take, not only possession, but full title to the property.

All went well until aging infrastructures and environmental contamination in villages and towns began to creep in to the formula.

Since the County was responsible for paying out taxes, what would happen if the abandoned property in question had environmental concerns? By taking title to the property, the County could be held responsible for the costs of environmental problems and clean-up. This has occurred in the past in several municipalities and wound up costing the County hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hidden underground fuel tanks, chemical dumping (that decades ago may have been an acceptable solution), asbestos, or buildings in poor condition – no longer viable, has left scars and decay in villages and towns. The County opted to take such properties off the tax rolls and put them in a state of limbo. This way, the County would not have to make the taxes on the property ‘whole’ to the villages, towns and school districts.

At last week’s County Finance Committee Arcadia Supervisor Dick Colacino argued to have four properties in his town put back on the tax rolls. Bob Hutteman and Lu Engineers’ Representative Steve Campbell came before the Committee to request properties owned by Frederick Parkinson, Phillip Kline (two parcels) and Alfred Drew, not be given tax roll Section 8 status. This would allow the County to take possession of the properties for back taxes. Arcadia would then hire an engineering study to determine the amount of any possible pollution and costs for clean up. Colacino argued that once the properties were cleaned up, they could again be put back on the tax rolls.

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors’ Meeting, Arcadia Town Attorney David Saracino asked for the privilege of the floor to address the Board. He asked that the four parcels be put back on the tax rolls to give Arcadia the time for “due diligence to evaluate the environmental risks to these properties.” He said they then could be purchased, developed and be a source of future tax revenues.

Following Saracino, Arcadia Town Engineer, Robert Hutteman, representing Lu Engineers, also asked the Board time to do an environmental investigation. He cited other communities where his company has done similar studies.

Following discussion to put the four properties, all located on the north side of the Village of Newark and the railroad tracks, the Board opted to pull the resolutions for more study.

It is expected the four resolutions will again come before the Board at their special meeting called for Thursday, February 24. The deadline for moving properties to and from the tax roll in March 1st.

At that meeting, Colacino said he has asked the Town Attorney to reappear to present the case for putting the four properties on the tax rolls. He agreed the County would be on the hook for an additional $14,000, but said the alternative to just letting the properties sit there was not acceptable.

If the four properties are put back on the tax rolls, the County could become liable for the over $14,000 to be made whole to the Town of Arcadia, Village of Newark and the Newark School District. All four properties in question have been delinquent for over three years. According to Walworth Supervisor Bob Plant, one of the properties has already cost the County $130,000 in fulfilling property taxes to the other municipalities.

At Tuesday’s Board meeting, Plant asked that the Town of Arcadia Board pass a resolution that they would accept full ownership of the properties once the County took possession of them. “If there is no resolution from them, I’m not in favor of it.”

If the Town of Arcadia took possession of one, or more of the properties, they would then be responsible for any environmental clean-up in the future. Colacino said the Town of Arcadia would not take possession as Plant requested, but would take possession after a study is done to determine the extent of contamination.

Although Colacino said he wants the Town to take possession of the four properties for an environmental study, potential clean up and having them put back on the tax rolls, Plant and several other Board members are skeptical.

Supervisor Colacino has envisioned and promoted plans at several meetings to develop the site as a potential railroad/passenger station for Amtrak. Lu Engineering has prepared preliminary building sketches for a passenger train station on the site of the four properties.

For over 20 years the County and Village and Town of Lyons have gone through numerous plans and renderings to satisfy CSX, the owner of the tracks, to allow a passenger train station in Lyons. All of the plans to date have been rejected or delayed for various concerns. Colacino began pushing the Town of Arcadia site as a workable solution, but the County Board said both the site and the idea behind the Colacino plans are more than remote.

According to Wayne County Planning Director Sharon Lilla, CSX’s concerns on the plans submitted for a Lyons’ site is possible delays a passenger train stop would create for CSX freight traffic. “We have submitted five alternative track plans. Personally, I think there is a valid reason for a train station in the Finger Lakes region.”

She added that ongoing talks with both CSX and Amtrak have been ongoing concerning the Lyons site serving the Northeast corridor rail passenger line Lilla said she was unfamiliar with Colacino’s plan, but said the Lyons site is well ahead of the game in planning. She also said all plans are pretty much up in the air since Amtrak has announced they are doing their own surveys and studies of passenger needs and use on the rail corridor. Lilla also said she believes the Arcadia properties in question are located in a 100-year flood plain. “I doubt Amtrak wants to build a train station in a 100-year flood plain.”
Colacino wanted to make it clear that the Arcadia site was not in competition with the Lyons for the train station. He admitted that he has not had any detailed discussions with either CSX or Amtrak. Colacino also said that, if the train station idea doesn’t fly, the tracks and added spurs could be used to develop a Wayne County freight yard. He also said he does not believe there will be any major pollution problems that cannot be overcome.

Sharon Lilla said that with most prior railroad locations, contamination concerns could be “extremely costly”. She also called into question that any contamination found on the properties could have seeped into adjacent properties and that too would then have to be addressed. The County Planning Director stated that she believes any further brownfield (environmental clean-up funds) applications would probably require a clean-up, with a specific use for the property, once it is completed.

Colacino said he feels the properties could probably be cleaned up for $250,000. “That may even be on the high side,” said the Arcadia Supervisor. Lilla said that County’s participation in the brownfield program, where the Schoeffel property was cleaned up a number of years ago, cost the County $350,000. The Schoeffel property, located on Ridge Road in Sodus, was the former site of a car dealership. The property was abandoned and it took the DEC (Department of Conservation) four years after the clean-up to grant an easement. The property still sits vacant.

The Arcadia Supervisor said that there was no reason the Lyons train site should cost as much as estimated. Colacino said that with the cooperation of the highway department, such things as clean-up costs and construction costs could be lowered. He also said that costs could be reduced by using the same track for both ways, instead of dual tracks. Lilla said there are very specific needs for a train station and track layout that cannot be overlooked.
Several property owners found that allowing the taxes on certain properties was a way to skate paying on property taxes and continue using the sites for operational use. Other property owners simply walked away from such properties, leaving them as abandoned sites. Currently, the County has 33 properties on the list as possible contaminated sites.