MAYVILLE - A bipartisan resolution on revitalization squeaked by the County Legislature last month, but has since been vetoed by the county executive.
In a news release announcing the veto, Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown, said she was disappointed that Greg Edwards had vetoed the resolution - adding that the resolution encourages the sale of foreclosed properties to quality owners, strengthens the county's housing market, and, overall, improves the county's tax base.
"At a time when county property taxes are scheduled to increase substantially, I am puzzled as why bipartisan legislation aimed at strengthening our tax base would be rejected." Cornell said.
Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown, speaks in favor of her revitalization resolution which passed the County Legislature last month.
P-J photo by Nicholas L. Dean
The resolution passed the legislature 14 to 10 in September, with Mark Tarbrake, R-Ellicott; Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia; Jerry Park, R-Forestville; Jay Gould, R-Ashville; Dick Babbage, R-Bemus Point; John Runkle, R-Stockton; George Borrello, R- Irving; Bob Stewart, R- Ellington; David Himelein, R-Findley Lake and Scot Stutzman, I-Jamestown, opposed. Ron Lemon, R-Frewsburg, was absent from the meeting.
Edwards vetoed the legislation on Oct. 1. The veto can be overridden with 17 votes by the legislature at its next full meeting.
In her release, Cornell wrote that said she remains undeterred in pursuing the idea.
"We know there is a direct relationship between our property tax base and declining housing stock," she wrote. "I believe we should do something about it."
The legislation, Cornell says, stems from her commitment to encourage county government to do its part in realizing the 2010 Neighborhood Revitalization Plan. Authored by Charles Buki, the plan, if implemented, has the potential to strengthen not only Jamestown neighborhoods, but by extension, the entire county's tax base.
During discussion by the legislature, George Borrello, R-Irving, took issue with one of the plan's stipulations.
"While I can appreciate the good intention of this legislation, it's the unintended consequences that I'm most concerned about," he said. "Specifically, the $5,000 that we are requiring to go into escrow on properties that clearly have to be demolished and clearly are not worth nearly $5,000. This will create a situation where many, many properties will not be sold at auction.
"Those properties," he continued, "will continue to be a burden for Chautauqua County, as we will continue to have to pay under the hold harmless agreement. So it is not, unfortunately, budget neutral because it is going to cost us money to keep those properties on the tax rolls. On that principle alone, I apologize, but I'm going to have to vote against it because of that."
In detail, the legislation calls for:
PROPERTY CONDITION NOTIFICATION - Property condition notification requiring all Jamestown properties ranked under the 2010 Jamestown Housing Revitalization Plan as a "4" (distressed), "5" (highly distressed) or "6" (most distressed) to be listed in all auction publications, websites, and all other advertising as follows: "According to a 2010 professional housing analysis, this property needs significant repair to be habitable. This property is in severe distress."
ESCROW ACCOUNTS - Any purchase of Jamestown properties listed as "5" or "6" properties under the 2010 Jamestown Housing Revitalization Plan will require that $5,000 be deposited in a non-interest accruing escrow account to be returned upon the property owner's receipt of a Certificate of Occupancy. If the property owner fails to obtain the certificate after one year from the date of purchase, the amount in escrow will be forfeited and transferred to the county's demolition fund. The county will then, at its discretion, be entitled to reacquire the property. Other municipalities may also participate in the 3-year pilot program by advising the county at least two months prior to the auction as to which properties the municipality has categorized in a similar classification format.
DEMOLITIONS - Revenue sources for the annual demolition of as many highly distressed properties as possible will be explored.
PROPERTY REVIEW ASSISTANCE - The feasibility of a senior volunteer program under the Office for the Aging's existing programming will be explored, helping to support the systematic cataloguing and review of select county neighborhoods.
AUCTION DATE - The setting of as as consistent as possible of an auction date on or about the second Friday and Saturday in May annually.
AUCTION EXCLUSIONS - Any high bidders at the public auction that fail to make a down payment will be disqualified from bidding at the county tax foreclosure auctions for a period of two years.
"Simply, this legislation is good policy," Cornell said during the legislature's September meeting. "It's above politics. This represents nearly a half a year of very hard and diligent work on behalf of many legislators. It's a bipartisan agreement. It's budget neutral. It provides for no municipal mandates. It provides no code enforcement language that could be interpreted as any way detrimental to municipal operations and, most importantly, it is, as I said, legislation that is bipartisan. It's a comprehensive, well-rounded policy that helps address our auction process and improves neighborhoods and our taxbase for the long-term.
During the meeting, legislators questioned why the legislation did not extend to the full county and, though there was some interest in doing so, there was also interest in passing it as written rather than sending it back to committee.
Also, Scot Stutzman, I-Jamestown, attempted to amend the legislation to make it more stringent, but his proposed amendment failed to pass the legislature.
Cornell called the resolution a "good first step" and asked that the legislature approve both Stutzman's amendment and the proposal or just the proposal to move the proposal forward.
"It's our job as policy makers," Cornell said of passing the legislation. "Let's move forward on more good policy."
In her news release on the Chautauqua County Reinvestment Act, Cornell pointed out that the resolution had the support of Chairman Fred Croscut, R-Sherman; Administrative Services Committee Chairman Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, and Assistant Majority Leader Doug Richmond, R-Westfield. She credited the leadership on their support of the bipartisan proposal and wrote that she was most proud of the time and effort put into developing the "true, bipartisan legislation that put good policy above politics." She also praised longtime Democratic leaders Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk, and Maria Kindberg, D-Jamestown, for their leadership to ensure its passage.
The next meeting of the full legislature is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 27 at the Chautauqua Lake Central School building.