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Sun., Sep. 21
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A taxing endeavor

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The old adage of “It’s better to seek forgiveness than ask permission” doesn’t always work.

Massena Mayor James F. Hidy recently found this out the hard way. Last month, he had members of the village’s Public Works Department spruce up the site of the former Sunrise Mall and sent the bill to the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators. County officials declined to honor the invoice, leaving Massena with the expense.

Mayor Hidy admitted that he hadn’t sought prior approval for the painting job he had done at the mall as well as work performed at 15 Cook St., both of which are now owned by the county. He said that legislators should cover the $3,000 bill.

The county board saw things differently Aug. 12 by refusing to compensate Massena for the work done. St. Lawrence County has paid more than $60,000 to Massena on the back taxes owed for the two sites and funded a $10,000 asbestos study.

Mayor Hidy has a point about foreclosed properties that should be maintained. But the implementation of his idea was shortsighted. He should have run it by county officials before having the work done to see if they’d play ball.

This incident left legislators questioning aspects of the property assessment process. County residents are paying taxes on vacant sites at a rate that seems out of whack, particularly when properties become deteriorated, officials said.

When the property tax on various sites becomes past due, the county pays the local jurisdiction what is owed and assumes responsibility for collecting any outstanding amount. Having been abandoned, Sunrise Mall was likely not nearly worth the amount for which it was assessed.

However, Massena left the assessment as if it were a functioning building and kept levying a tax. In effect, it was taxing the county for a vacant structure downtown.

The program of the county assuming liability for the unpaid taxes is sound. But assessments should reflect the true value of a property, which would reduce the county’s annual liability.

Mayor Hidy is correct that vacant land should be spruced up to appeal to buyers. But his claim that legislators should fund these expenses is misguided. The county has been paying more taxes than it should for Sunrise Mall, which should at least cover the cost of the paint job.

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