By Jaime Thomas
After more than two decades of frustration, the county can finally put the Eldridge Lane property behind it.
The county board of supervisors approved the sale of the 485-acre plot at a meeting last Friday.
The sale followed a month-long online auction, which Gary Fullerton, a dairy farmer in Argyle, won for a price of $400,300.
The auction came after the town of Hartford was at odds with the county over the property, which the county originally purchased in 1991 to construct an ash landfill that was never built. Since 2011, Hartford has been pursuing legal action to receive back payment in lieu of taxes from the county.
Dana Haff, Hartford town supervisor, had been pushing for action of the sale and said last month that he would be surprised if his fellow supervisors didn’t approve of the bid. During the meeting, Hebron Supervisor Brian Campbell commended Haff’s efforts and gave him the opportunity to make the motion.
“He was very instrumental in making this happen,” Campbell said. The 17-member board unanimously voted yes, with Haff emphasizing his approval.
“It’s not over til the fat lady sings, so I vote ‘yes’,” he sang.
“Today’s approval of the sale effectively ends a 22-year saga of contention between the town of Hartford and the county. Hooray for Hartford,” Haff said later in an email.
Washington County will split the final revenue with Warren County because of the original agreement.
During the meeting, Steve Peluso, a representative of the state Department of Taxation and Finance, spoke about the STAR exemption.
New law requires all homeowners currently receiving the Basic STAR exemption to reregister with the state in order to continue receiving the exemption. Those who do not reregister will not be eligible to receive exemption.
The legislation came because residents were found to be receiving benefits on multiple properties. But Campbell questioned whether the extensive efforts by the taxation department are worth it.
“They must’ve thought there was a huge amount of fraud to do this every three years. Will the money saved by curbing fraud even exceed the cost of doing this?” Campbell asked, referring to mailings, talks and other measures.
While Peluso didn’t give a clear answer to the question, Laura Chadwick, director of real property for the county, said the problem is real.
“We’ve been reviewing this type of situation for years, and even at the county level we’re catching people,” she said.
Jackson Supervisor Alan Brown questioned whether the call center, for those who can’t register online, has enough employees.
“Early on there wasn’t; they were getting 80,000 calls per day. Now they should be OK,” Peluso said. “We’re going to do everything we can to reach out. We don’t want residents to lose this if they are eligible.”
Those who haven’t yet registered can call 518-457-2036 or visit www.tax.ny.gov.
Though he didn’t speak too much about his proposal to grow industrial hemp in the county, Haff handed out a packet of information about the idea.
A resolution he drew up describes industrial hemp, which has a very low psychoactive THC content, as a crop that could benefit the local agricultural economy. It also contained statements from officials elsewhere in the country who supported the idea.
The agriculture and planning committee met Monday morning will explore the economic benefits of industrial hemp in the event it ever becomes legal.
The next county board of supervisors meeting will be held Friday, Nov. 15, at 10 a.m.