ST. REGIS FALLS — Franklin County may forgive $517,000 in debt on the former St. Regis Falls Central School building if its name never appears on the title.
A buyer is interested in creating a vehicle-repair shop with apartments there, but he only wants to pay $1,000 for the entire property, according to Legislator Sue Robideau (R-Brushton).
She said he believes he can get an underground fuel tank removed for free through a Brownfield grant.
But County Treasurer Bryon Varin said that money is only awarded to a municipality that intends to take a property, clean it up and either sell it or use it for the public good, such as establishing a park.
The 87,000 square-foot property, located in the Town of Waverly, is assessed at $83,800 and has been condemned for several years.
The school district sold it in 2003 for $10,000, but the owner — Ferncroft Holding LLC, based in Canada — has not paid town, school or county taxes.
The county is owed a total of $517,415, which includes its own property-tax losses plus interest and penalties and the amounts it paid, by law, to make the town and school district whole.
That was $103,970 in town taxes and $125,483 in unpaid school taxes.
Varin said to keep the county from coming under
any liability for the property, he’s researching a direct deed where — after all legal means to contact the owner have been exhausted and the foreclosure process concludes — ownership could be awarded to the town, which can either sell or keep it.
COULD BE LIABLE
In the past, deeds on foreclosed properties go to the county then are immediately transferred to the new owner.
But with the liability attached to the old school, such as an owner who lives out of the country, suspected asbestos and an underground fuel tank, the county wants no legal part of the property and does not want to be the pass-through entity.
County Attorney Jonathan Miller had said if the county took title even for two minutes as the paperwork was being filed with the County Clerk’s Office, it could be held liable for any debts or clean-up under regulations enforced by the State Department of Environmental Conservation, the State Department of Labor and, since the site is inside the Blue Line, the Adirondack Park Agency.
County Manager Thomas Leitz cautioned the town to get legal advice before making any arrangements to take ownership, considering that the DEC process for cleaning up environmental issues is long “and can be pricy.
“If someone’s going to work on developing the property with the town, they want to see a lot of private leverage, someone with deep pockets,” he said.
Robideau said she would take the information back to the WaverlyTown Council, and Varin and Miller agreed to continue their research.
Email Denise A. Raymo: firstname.lastname@example.org