COLUMN: Depot land “sale” deal stirs the pot in Seneca Co.

The former Seneca Army Depot property will be leased for a year, or two.

Late in December, municipalities hold meetings to wrap up the year’s activity, pay bills and take care of any outstanding issues that remain on the table. One practice that should be made regular is taking stock of the year. It should mean looking at everything that has happened, owning the decisions that have been made, and looking at ways the following year can be better.

Using the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency as a case study with its handling of the former Seneca Army Depot — all of those aforementioned board behaviors could have made next year a whole lot more certain.

The IDA voted nearly unanimously to lease the roughly 7,000 acres to bid process winner Earl Martin. The only problem was that the bid process was executed to find a buyer, not a renter.

Let’s not forget: When the Seneca County Board of Supervisors decided that they did not want the county taking on responsibility of the property, as was proposed by a few from the board, the overwhelming consensus was that they desired two things out of a deal.

1) A buyer should be found so that the property can go back on the tax roll.

2) The county should not get into the business of being landlords.

I realize some will argue that the IDA is, technically, the leasing body. However, the Seneca County IDA serves at the pleasure of the Board of Supervisors. That body holds the power to add individuals to the IDA at their discretion, and they appoint a representative from the elected board to sit on the IDA each year.

Over the weekend, the Auburn Citizen reported that the lease agreement was causing a stir among some of those bidders who weren’t selected. Additionally, there is disappointment among those represented in Seneca County who feel like the process was for naught.

That process was carried out behind closed doors. The bidders were not publicized until after one had been selected — and, throughout the entire process, that move was billed as a way to ensure the integrity of the process.

That integrity though certainly seems to be called into question by the decision of the IDA to bypass a sale, and go with a “lease” while the winner works on getting the tax assessment sorted out.

There are more questions about the process, result and actual plan Martin devised than has been publicized. The lease deal works out perfectly for the IDA, since they will be the chief beneficiary of the $900,000 price tag.

Taxpayers will not see a new, large property be added to the tax roll. Businesses and residents won’t see any more certainty in Romulus due to this lease. In fact, it gives all parties involved an option for an “easy out” if things don’t go according to plan. The IDA will get paid no matter what, Martin would only lose the money he paid up front, and everything else would effectively be reset.

Perhaps most important, the process seems to have removed accountability and placed the burden back on the taxpayer. Legally speaking, it’s a complicated item to discuss — the viability and success of an industrial development agency. However, the decisions they make have an impact on a lot of people.

In that Citizen story, Bob Aronson said that “not enough bids for bits and pieces” came in to the IDA to facilitate a complete deal. In saying that, the IDA is acknowledging that they didn’t want to get into the business of being “property developer” or “landlord.”

The statements and actions of the IDA run counter to their so-called mission. Frankly, they even run counter to the things they’ve said in the past. What Seneca County has been left with is a mixed bag of confusion, uncertainty and questions.

In Seneca County, it’s time for elected officials, appointed representatives, and residents alike to take stock and look forward for better solutions.

This column originally appeared in the Finger Lakes Times. Read all of Josh’s columns from the Finger Lakes Times here.

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