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St. Lawrence County rejects Massena mayor’s painting bill

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County legislators rejected paying a $3,000 bill from the village of Massena for painting a building to which the county has title, and indicated they will not rehabilitate foreclosed-on property beyond safety issues.

Massena Mayor James F. Hidy billed the county for work done at the Sunrise Mall without prior notification and subsequently asked the county to pay for work at 15 Cook St., a property with broken windows and an unkempt lawn, which the county took title to recently and intends to sell at auction this fall.

“This raises a number of issues for us,” County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said.

The county would spend a fortune if it fixed up all the properties it takes for back taxes, she said.

“If we start this process, I think we’re in trouble,” said Legislator Mark H. Akins, R-Lisbon.

The county has no legal obligation to make such repairs, county attorney Michael C. Crowe said.

The county cannot sell the Sunrise Mall as its ownership is in the hands of the courts.

The county also has made Massena whole to the tune of more than $60,000 on the back taxes on the two properties and paid $10,000 for an asbestos study.

Meanwhile, the assessments have not been reduced even as the properties deteriorated, and the village failed to go after the property owners then, said Legislator Donald A. Peck, R-Gouverneur.

“They’ve had three years to do it themselves and put the cost on the tax rolls,” Mr. Peck said. “We shouldn’t be making them whole unless they reduce the assessment.”

The county could get out of the blighted property business all together, refusing to take title to properties for back taxes so they can be sold, which would throw the parcels into limbo while villages, towns and school districts lose revenue, said Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler.

“It just seems to me we’ve done our due diligence,” he said. “They’ve collected plenty of money.”

In the case of 15 Cook St., Ms. St. Hilaire said she may have a crew pick up broken glass if it is dangerous.

After the building is sold at auction this fall, the village can ask the new owner to fix it, said Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction.

“Our goal is to put that back on the tax rolls,” he said.

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