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Stay out of the real estate business

November 14, 2019 05:45 pm

Nevermind what the Greene County Legislature will do with a proposal to acquire the former Bank of Greene County building in Coxsackie that is now home to the temporary Greene County Sheriff’s Office. The asking price for the building is $400,000. Running to form, the Legislature, without much discussion, took out an option on the property.

So it’s worth keeping these items in mind: The Legislature discarded several opportunities to do a feasibility study on the need for a new county jail; lawmakers turned a deaf ear to critics pleading for a “pause and rethink” before making a final commitment; and the Legislature authorized a $39 million bond issue and committed an $8 million county share to build the jail.

In the case of the temporary sheriff’s office, Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden was correct Tuesday when he said it’s cheaper to own than to rent. The old sheriff’s office at 80 Bridge St. in Catskill required about $300,000 in repairs to the heating, water and sewer systems, Groden said last October. Groden said buying the building at $400,000 will save the county $125,000 on the lease.

Of course, when it comes to jail matters, the county Legislature has a track record of unwisely spending money even though one relatively inexpensive study and a dive into the deep end of statistics might have demonstrated otherwise.

One interesting development in this story: Groden sent emails to the legislators about the purchase option and the potential cost savings at the request of Legislator Charles Martinez, R-Coxsackie. Curiously, it was Martinez, more than 25 years ago, who warned the Legislature to stay out of the real estate business when the county was negotiating the sale of the former Greene County Memorial Hospital to a coalition of local physicians. Legislators Michael Bulich and Matthew Luvera, both R-Catskill, echoed Martinez’ warning Tuesday.

Other possibilities exist here. The Legislature could buy the building from the owner, local businessman Aaron Flach, and then resell it to obtain a little more capital for the county. Or Flach could sell the building to a buyer who would keep it on the tax rolls, producing revenue for the county.

Now it’s the Legislature’s turn to assess all the options and make a decision that will benefit Greene County taxpayers. A governing body acquiring commercial property can be dicey. Spending another $400,000 is easy, but no one can predict with certainty what the market will be like a month from now or a year from now. Given the lawmakers’ track record, they should not wade into the real estate business.

Yep. And I repeat for emphasis, the slide showing debt at the budget presentation was up for less than 3 seconds! Yep, tons of new and irresponsible debt.