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Town, county officials spar over foreclosed properties

Task force set up to determine fate of long-derelict structures

— Town supervisors faced off against county officials Tuesday, Jan. 21, in an attempt to determine exactly who has ultimate responsibility over foreclosed and condemned properties within Essex County.

Supervisors complained that while the state mandates buildings or structures that code enforcement authorities deem unsafe be condemned or demolished, those costs are currently absorbed by the town and cannot be relevyed on the tax rolls.

“How can you stay under the tax cap when you have a mandate to make something safe and the cost is absorbed by the taxpayers and the county continues to do this,” asked county board of supervisors chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay). “We’re all in the same position.”

Douglas was joined in his concern by a chorus line of supervisors each voicing concerns about decrepit properties in their individual towns.

“If we’re obligated to take something down, do the Moriah taxpayers have to pay that cost,” Finance Committee Chair Tom Scozzafava (R-Moriah) asked county attorney Dan Manning.

“The county doesn’t want to get stuck with the bill,” responded Manning, repeatedly stressing that the law currently cannot allow for property to be relevyed.

Towns have the authority to pass laws to destroy unsafe buildings, explained Manning. Both town and local laws provide that when they are torn down a lien can be placed on the property.

“The question the board is addressing is whether they can assess that on the taxes,” he later said.

The county is still pondering the issue and determining a way forward.

“We’re looking the state for guidance,” Manning said.

This impasse is, in part, why so many eyesores dot the landscape, said Scozzafava, noting that while Moriah has taken several structures down, the town has eaten the cost.

“If the county owns it, and it’s in your town, then they should take care of it,” he said.

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