For the Recorder
ST. JOHNSVILLE -- It may not be too late for action on the part of St. Johnsville residents opposed to the mid-August sale of the village's long vacant Industrial Park.
That's according to Brian Butry, a spokesperson with the state Comptroller's Office late Tuesday, who responded to a query by this publication about whether the village's sale of the 23.1 acre site to a couple of St. Johnsville residents may be subject to permissive referendum.
A resolution addressing the sale to Christopher M. and Shelly A. Arduini for $40,000 was approved by village trustees in public session during their Aug. 14 meeting. As noted in the meeting minutes, village attorney Norman Mastromoro informed officials that there had been ongoing negotiations concerning the purchase of the property, which is in the flood plain along the Mohawk River.
The village and the former Urban Renewal Agency have unsuccessfully attempted to induce development at the village-owned site since at least the mid-1990s.
A volley of sometimes-acrid criticism about details of the transaction was launched on a popular social networking website over the weekend as some area residents, who were unaware of the sale, questioned the transparency of the deal.
For example, the resident who initiated the conversation wrote, "I really just wanted to know if anyone is upset that the 'village' decided to sell off a piece of property without any sort of notice and/or discussion from the public?"
Additionally, she later asked, "I am not complaining about the fact that someone is going to utilize that tract - good for him! We need more gumption here. What I am confused about is how this came about. For example... 'the village found a buyer...' -- how did that happen. Was it put on the market? Was it discussed at board meetings? Or did the buyer approach them? Can a village leader/board sell a parcel of village property arbitrarily without any input from the taxpayers? I do not know the answer to these questions and would like to know."
Robert Failing, who served as chairman of the URA for many years, posted that "former Mayor Josie Terricola's administration once sold [the industrial park property] for $1 ... to a steel fabricating company. When they never developed it, the property returned to the village."
On Tuesday, he noted that in addition to its location in the flood plain, the village property had other issues. For instance, truck traffic to and from the site, which is situated just off Bridge Street on the north side of the river, was problematic for any industry that might locate there. Other considerations to be taken into account included the compatibility of the site with a potential developer's use.
As noted in an April 2012 "Handbook for Elected Village Officials" published by the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials, villages are "authorized to sell real property belonging to the municipality... However, a village cannot sell property that it needs for municipal purposes. If the property is no longer needed for municipal purposes, the board of trustees can declare it surplus and sell the property for fair and adequate consideration."
Additionally, the handbook notes, "When selling real property there are two requirements: The village board must determine that the land is no longer needed for municipal purposes and enact a resolution to this effect; and [t]he land must be sold for fair and adequate consideration. This can be accomplished through an independent appraisal of the property."
The property in this instance was appraised by Krutz Properties of Canajoharie.
The handbook also noted that real property in villages "does not have to be sold at auction to the highest bidder unless a local law requires an auction."
Butry, citing New York State Town Law, Article 7, Section 64.2, said following a decision to sell, voters have "x-amount of days to request a referendum. It there's no valid petition filed within that time, then it's not subject to a vote."
A legal notice to that effect must be published subsequent to the board's action, he said. Based on a review of three local publications' legal notices from Aug. 15th to the present, there was no such legal notice posted.
Despite Butry's assertion, it's not clear if the provision that applies to town officials is relevant when village trustees are addressing the sale of real property.