Press-Republican

November 28, 2012

Clinton County expects tax auction of disputed properties to go on

By JOE LoTEMPLIO
Press-Republican

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PLATTSBURGH — Turtle Island Trust has filed a suit over Friday's tax auction of disputed properties in Altona, but live bids will be accepted online starting at 9 a.m.

But that could change, Clinton County officials said Wednesday.

"We are planning on going ahead with the sale, but we are going to consult with our attorney and see," County Treasurer Joseph Giroux said.

The 11 properties in question have been purchased by Turtle Island Trust in recent years.

The trust was established in 1977 in a deal between the state and the Mohawks of the Ganienkeh Council Fire to settle a three-year siege in Moss Lake. State land in Altona leased to the trust became the home of Ganienkeh Mohawks, where a bingo hall, gas station and other businesses are established.

The 11 parcels lie in the Town of Altona and the Northern Adirondack Central School District, covering about 1,745 acres mostly near the Mohawk territory off the Military Turnpike. Among them are the Ganienkeh Golf Course and a dairy farm.

 

FORECLOSURE

The county says the land involved in the trust's most recent purchases is not within the original boundaries set by the state agreement and is therefore subject to taxation.

Since taxes have not been paid for six years, the county foreclosed on the parcels and put them up for auction.

Trust officials say the lands are part of the trust and not subject to taxes.

"We believe the county acted illegally in taking these lands," Trust Chairman the Rev. Donald Washburn told the Press-Republican.

"Several things were not followed that should have been, and we are going to court to get the lands back."

 

LAWSUIT FILED

The trust filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court Wednesday challenging the legality of the upcoming online auction. In a news release, trust officials cautioned potential bidders.

"Anyone considering bidding on the county's online auction is warned that he or she will automatically become a party to the trust's lawsuit against Clinton County should he or she submit a winning bid," the release says.

"Potential bidders should also take note that Clinton County is no longer able to convey good title to any of the parcels being offered for auction. The prevailing bidder therefore risks losing his or her money to the county."

Washburn said the lands in question were purchased as part of the trust, which is a private charitable foundation and thus not subject to taxation.

"... the trust is absolutely exempt from property taxation under New York state law, just as are schools, churches, museums and Indian reservation lands," the news release said.

 

'PEACEFUL SOLUTION'

Washburn said those living on the disputed lands have no intention of leaving, and the trust wants a peaceful resolution to the issue.

"A lot of options have been explored by a lot of people, and we are looking for a peaceful solution," he said.

"Hopefully, the courts can be a way for that to happen."

Giroux said earlier that the state had worked to find some kind of resolution to the issue, which was why it took so long to put the properties up for auction.

 

COUNTY DISCLAIMERS

County Legislature Chairman Jimmy Langley (R-Area 7, Peru) said the auction is expected to go forth as planned unless they are directed otherwise. He said the county has issued numerous notices about the sale that clearly say the lands are in dispute with the trust.

"We've had several disclaimers about that, so people should know," he said.

County Treasurer Joseph Giroux said about $275,000 is owed in back taxes on the 11 properties. The lands are assessed at a total value of about $2 million.

"Our goal, naturally, is to put the properties back on the tax rolls," Giroux said.

The auction will be conducted by Haroff Auction and Realty. Bids can be submitted live as each parcel is put up for sale.

Bidders must preregister by visiting Haroff's website, www.harofflivebids.com.

Giroux said the website had more than 150,000 hits the first day the auction was announced.

"There is interest out there," he said.

 

OWNERS MUST EVICT

If the properties are sold, the county will turn over the deeds to the new owners in about two or three weeks, Giroux said. It will be up to the new owners to initiate the process to have the property vacated, which would be handled by the County Sheriff's Department.

Sheriff David Favro said his department will "follow the orders of the court," but declined to say anything further.

 

Email Joe LoTemplio:

jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com