DRAMA AT COUNTY BOARD
Concern: Non-Profit Won’t Pay Property Taxes
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – A coalition of Republican and Democratic reps took control of the floor at this morning’s county Board of Representatives’ meeting and approved the $151,000 sale of the 87-acre Rose Hill property to the Otsego Land Trust, a non-profit not required to pay property taxes.
The land, atop Panther Mountain on the north end of the Town of Otsego, connects with the Land Trust’s 85-acre Fetterlee Forest, doubling the trust’s holding, which features a scenic overlook of Canadarago Lake and Deowongo Island, as well as hiking trails.
The sale had been stymied in the county board’s committee system since April, failing to pass the Public Works Committee, then failing to pass the Administrative Committee. Normally, that would have ended it.
But Public Works Committee chair Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, this morning made a motion to suspend the board’s rules, allowing the 14-member board to engage in a lively debate, then approve the sale, 10-3-1.
The nays were county Reps. Kathy Clark, R-Otego; Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, and Keith McCarty, R-East Springfield. The one abstention being board Chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Middlefield/Cherry Valley.
“It’s all about numbers. It’s all about a business transaction,” Oberacker said after the vote.
In remarks to his colleagues, Oberacker, president of FormTech Solutions Inc., a food research and marketing firm, said if the property could be eventually sold to a tax-paying entity, it would generate $308.04 in county taxes annual. At that rate, it would take 497 years for that to equal the $151,000 the Land Trust is ready to pay now.
The ROI – return on investment – on not selling undeveloped acreage at the top of a steep dirt road to a ready buyer, doesn’t make sense, he said.
In the discussion that followed, county Rep. Danny Lapin, D-Oneonta, said the Land Trust’s expanded holdings will lure more outdoor enthusiasts to the county, and thus fits into the county board’s “destination marketing” tourism strategy. The visitors would also pay sales tax on purchases, sales tax being a major source of county revenues, he said
County Rep. Andrew Marietta, D-Cooperstown/Town of Otsego, pointed out that non-profits – from Basset Hospital on down – are the county’s major employers, and are the growing sector. “It’s the only place we see any growth in our county,” he said.
County Rep. Andrew Stammell, D-Town of Oneonta, said the sale will contribute to “quality of life.”
McCarty repeated his objections: the Land Trust won’t pay taxes, hunting may be curtailed, and – if developed – the Town of Richfield would have to bear the burden of upgrading Walnut Hill Road, now a one-lane tract.
The 87 acres was part of a 100-acre parcel the county bought in 2015 for a tower in its communications system, Oberacker said. The owner wouldn’t break it up; the town only needed 13 acres, so the county was left with 87 acres it has no use for.
Land Trust Executive Director Pat Szarpa was at the meeting, and said afterwards the trust’s Land Management Committee, chaired by Dan Sullivan, Richfield, will decide what to do with it. But she agreed it would be sensible to simply expand the uses of Fetterlee Forest.
She said the Land Trust does make donations to fire companies serving its properties, but generally does not pay property taxes.