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Warren Co. seeks to make more land productive, generate taxes

The former Econo-Quik Gas & Car Wash site on Richards Avenue in Warrensburg has been off the tax rolls for at least 20 years due to underground pollution, which has now been remediated. Warren County leaders took an initial step this week toward getting more abandoned and distressed brownfield properties back in the hands of entrepreneurs who pay taxes — vital income for local governments and school districts.

The former Econo-Quik Gas & Car Wash site on Richards Avenue in Warrensburg has been off the tax rolls for at least 20 years due to underground pollution, which has now been remediated. Warren County leaders took an initial step this week toward getting more abandoned and distressed brownfield properties back in the hands of entrepreneurs who pay taxes — vital income for local governments and school districts. Photo by Thom Randall.

— Warren County leaders took an initial step Aug. 8 toward getting more abandoned properties back on the tax rolls.

The county Finance Committee voted unanimously to set up a fund to provide for environmental testing of properties the county acquires through foreclosure proceedings to recoup unpaid property taxes.

The fund is to be bankrolled with a portion of the proceeds from each annual tax sale.

Over the past few decades, the county has not taken title to properties they acquire if there is any question of whether the property is contaminated with hazardous substances that might prompt authorities to mandate an expensive cleanup.

Steering away from acquiring such properties has left the title of the properties in limbo, stalled potential site cleanup, and boosted the amount of unpaid taxes.

This proposed new measure calls for taking 50 percent of proceeds in excess of $100,00 from the 2012 tax sale to set up an environmental testing fund that will help determine the appropriate course for particular plots of land. In subsequent years, the percentage of proceeds of the tax sale to go towards the fund would be 25 percent.

The initiative, promoted this week by county Treasurer Mike Swan, calls for the county to take temporary title — a relatively new provision under state law to help clean up brownfields — while environmental testing is performed.

Depending on the test results, the county would then put the property up for public sale, or seek to have the state spearhead an environmental cleanup, Swan said.

“No longer will we have properties just sitting out there,” Swan said to the supervisors at the committee meeting.

Warren county now has three properties in limbo that are accruing ever-higher balances of unpaid taxes.

One is the old gas station on state Rte. 8 in the hamlet of Johnsburg. Authorities have said that underground fuel tanks are present on the half-acre plot. With the property title in limbo, the plot’s owner hasn't paid taxes on it since 1989, Swan said.

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