By Matthew Saari

A Whitehall resident questioned the Village Board last week about how improvements can be made on a property at 45 Poultney Street while the owner hasn’t paid taxes on the place since 2005.
“They’re making their place nicer and not paying taxes,” said Steve St. Claire. “If any of us made our place nicer, what happens? Taxes go up!”
Board members nodded their heads in agreement.
The property owner of record is James Martell, who village officials said is leasing the property to Jared Mowatt, who owns the surrounding lot littered with abandoned vehicles.
County treasurer Al Nolette said the county cannot foreclose on the property because the town reported there were buried tanks on the property and the county will not foreclose on the property and be responsible for the cleanup.
“We’re not doing the taxpayers any favors by taking possession of properties like that,” said Nolette. “We’ve been bitten before on this.”
Nolette said the only way the property will be added back to the tax roll is if the county receives a “clean bill of health from DEC or a certificate of clean up.”
Smith, frustrated with the lack of options, summarized the situation this way:
“That’s a pretty good loophole the county created…don’t pay your taxes, have a contaminated property, lease it out and make money off it – no one will come after you.”
St. Claire told the board:
“There’s nothing that can be done is what I’ve been told for the past three years…now they had to apply for a building permit and the village had to sign off on that…why?”
Village attorney Erika Sellar Ryan explained that tax collection and building code are two separate entities.
“Building code is handled by the county…if you meet all the criteria fine,” said Sellar Ryan, “Is what he’s asking for in violation of zoning code? He (code enforcement) has to sign it if he meets zoning criteria.”
St. Claire remained unconvinced, questioning how a property that doesn’t pay taxes is able to make improvements.
“You’re not alone on this,” said trustee Teresa Austin.
Mayor Phil Smith said that he spoke with the county to see what can be done and county officials told him they will not interject themselves in the chain of title.
“That’s the situation; no one is going to buy that property and be responsible for the clean up…and there it sits,” Smith said.
Washington County’s tax roll lists that Martell has not paid taxes since 2005.
In 2010 the property’s tax status changed to “wholly exempt” as the result of Resolution 90 passed by the Board of Supervisors in 2009 which ruled that there was no practical method to enforce the collection of taxes; as such the property received a tax exemption under Real Property Tax Law 1138.
The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance website states that there is no limit to the duration of the exemption.

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