FONDA - The chairman of Montgomery County's Finance Committee wants the Board of Supervisors to reject a bid for the former West Hill School property in Canajoharie because it is far too low to cover delinquent taxes on the property.
Rachel Yerdon of Sprakers submitted a bid of $8,500 for the property at Wednesday's auction of tax-delinquent properties. Root supervisor John Thayer said the back taxes owed on the property add up to nearly $70,000.
All successful bids received at Wednesday's auction must be approved by the Board of Supervisors before bidders can take possession of the properties. A resolution to approve all bids is on the agenda for the full board meeting May 22, but Thayer wants Yerdon's bid denied.
The former West Hill School in Canajoharie rises above downtown Canajoharie in April.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Pitcher
"Because it was such a low bid, I intend to present an amendment rejecting it and allowing the county to retain possession of the property," Thayer said this morning. "The county is on the hook for almost $70,000. The village [of Canajoharie] and the school district were made whole, but the county was not."
County Treasurer Shawn Bowerman explained the school district and the village are required by law to turn in a list of delinquent properties in November of each year. The county then relevies the delinquent taxes, which appear on the county tax bill that is sent out in January, he said. The county pays the delinquent taxes to the village and the school district in March, he said.
If Yerdon's bid is rejected, two village residents have their eyes on the building. Canajoharie Mayor Francis Avery said this morning he and Village Attorney Charles Tallent are interested in forming a group to come up with a plan to rescue the building. They are reaching out to potential volunteers, he said.
"If this group can come together, we will try to obtain grants to put a roof on the building and stabilize it," Avery said. "Mr. Tallent will pursue tax-exempt status for the property."
The group would be independent of the village, Avery said.
At the May 15 meeting of the Finance Committee, supervisors talked about a report that the Arkell Hall Foundation was interested in the building. That is not the case, Avery said.
"Arkell is not into it, and the village is not into it," he said.
The group's efforts are on hold until supervisors act on the bids from Wednesday's auction, Avery said. If supervisors reject Yerdon's bid, the group will go ahead, he said.
The group does not have a specific plan for the building, Tallent said.
"Nothing has been finalized yet, because it's been such a short time since we found out that it was sold at auction," Tallent said. "When the village found out the building was being sold, the village and some concerned citizens started scrambling to put something together to save the building."
The West Hill School property was originally slated to be sold at the tax auction in 2011, but it was withdrawn because of issues with creditors. The foreclosure remained in effect, and the parcel was added to this year's auction.
The school, a limestone structure designed by architect Archimedes Russell, was built in 1892. The school was closed in June 2002 when the elementary school moved to a new wing of the Canajoharie Central School campus.
The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on April 11, 2002.
The property was auctioned on eBay in 2004. School House Lofts, a Massachusetts-based company that converts old school buildings into condominiums, paid $155,000 for the property, but sold it in 2005 to Zdzislaw "George" Czachor for $250,000, according to records in the Montgomery County Clerk's office. Czachor, who lives in Brooklyn, has done nothing with the building.
Local officials are unhappy that the building sits empty. The windows and doors of the building are boarded up with sheets of plywood, but since many of the openings are taller than the 8-foot length of a standard plywood sheet, gaps exist between the wood and the window frames.
"It's salvageable now, but the longer it sits, the more it will deteriorate," Bowerman said.
John R. Becker covers Montgomery County news. He can be reached at email@example.com.