It’s hard to identify an issue that has been more polarizing in Seneca County than the handling of the former-Seneca Army Depot property.
Those 7,000-acres were put through a bid process, which ended last year with a winner — and initially — a buyer. The Seneca County Industrial Development Agency, who owns the Depot property, which is in Romulus and Varick — moved even closer to an official lease agreement with the bid winner.
Earl Martin’s winning bid, which was $900,000 remains in tact, but that payment will now be made to the IDA in form of a lease payment. The money will be paid up front, as the lease becomes official — or at least those are the terms agreed to by the IDA.
At January’s meeting of the IDA, Fayette Town Supervisor Cindy Lorenzetti was the only vote against the lease. One of her constituents spoke at that meeting, and then spoke again on Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors during public comment.
Patti Nogle, the Fayette resident who spoke at those meetings, highlighted the concerns she had with the handling of the Depot property. Nogle and her husband, who put in a bid for the property — was one of the “smaller” bids for a partial piece of the property.
The IDA defended their choice in Martin, releasing a fact sheet last week — noting that they selected the bidder who offered the most complete, long-term plan. Martin’s plan includes homesteads, economic development in terms of moving his Seneca Iron Works facility out to part of the property, as well create a safe haven for the white deer.
“It was something we learned to get over,” Nogle explained, referring to what she and her husband went through after learning that their bid was not going to be accepted. “What we can’t get over is how this has transitioned to a lease agreement when the purpose of the bid process was to get it back on the tax rolls,” she continued.
“In this 44-page contract, the word lease is nowhere to be found,” she concluded.
Nogle went on to highlight how she says many believe this process will move forward.
“Mr. Martin has no intention of going through with the sale any time soon to avoid paying taxes,” Nogle said to the board. There has been no indication thus far that Martin plans on not purchasing the property. He has noted that the lease-concept was created to ensure that the property’s assessment could be lowered.
Martin says it will take at least a year to do that.
Nogle noted that members of the IDA suggested that she and her husband buy the piece of property from Martin, which had already been appraised by the South County Assessor. “When we met, Mr. Martin informed Rich the tax assessor was way off in telling us that the land was worth $1,000 to $1,200 an acre,” Nogle recounted.
“His plan was to gouge us in price after paying a mere $128 per acre,” she continued. Nogle noted that Martin had told her $1,400 per acre likely wouldn’t even reach what he deemed it to be worth.
She concluded her remarks by pointing out concerns over whether the property will end up back in the hands of the IDA. “It seems this is a real possibility because from our understanding there is no end date to a lease; it can be renewed with board approval.”
The fact sheet issued pointed out that the $900,000 being paid to the IDA will be reinvested in economic development throughout the county.
They also noted that a $50,000 first-year payment would be made in form of a PILOT. A second year, should the lease be extended to a second year, will require a $75,000 payment in lieu of taxes.
Multiple members of the IDA board said that they had hoped for a single-winner, who would submit a plan to buy the entire property. Rather than breaking the property down into smaller chunks. One concern the IDA had, at the time, was the prospect of becoming a property developer.
The plan was approved unanimously, and would result in the investment of $13 million, as well as the potential for 200 new jobs over a 10-year period.
Donald Reinshagen, another bidder for the property highlighted his concern with a letter to the board. He had historically leased 18 acres of property along the Depot fence for 12 years — at “fair market value,” but was not considered for a sale due to his bid being for a piece of the property.
In his letter he asserts that Martin received special treatment that wasn’t available to anyone else.
Public remarks were capped off by Varick Town Supervisor Bob Hayssen, who noted that the final revaluation will be completed by May 1st, at which point Martin would be able to go through the normal, legal process for challenging an assessment.
“It will be completed in a timely manner and there is no need to delay the closing on this sale. There is also no need for a PILOT,” Hayssen continued. “All of the bidders understood going in, that they would be paying taxes on the assessed value,” he concluded.
Romulus Town Supervisor David Kaiser challenged Hayssen’s remarks, as well as those made by bidders — pointing out that he supported the IDA’s decision to select Martin’s bid.