Village hall impasse in new phase

The village and town are at odds over the future of the Athens Community Center, and the village is asking residents to complete a survey about the issue. File photo

ATHENS — The village board is not ruling out taking the town of Athens to court for back rent owed for the Athens Community Center.

The last time the town paid rent or cleaning fees on the space its offices occupy in the community center at 2 First St., was in 2018.

Town offices, as well as the town court, are housed in the building.

“I am guessing they will only respond if we sue them,” Village Trustee Joshua Lipsman said Sept. 8 at a village board meeting.

Lipsman predicted the issue will wind up in court.

The town owes the village, which operates the building, $97,101 in back rent and cleaning fees.

“The last time we received rent from the town was in 2018, so for 2019, 2020 and 2021, it has not been paid,” Village Clerk Mary Jo Wynne confirmed Thursday. “The lease also includes half of the janitorial services.”

The town is supposed to pay rent once a year, in January, in the amount of $28,604. The cost of janitorial services for the town is an additional $3,763 and $11,731 for utilities. The town and village share the cost of cleaning and utilities for the building.

The town stopped paying rent when the village and town were working out an agreement that the town would take over management of the community center. But the deal never came through, and on Tuesday the town board was deadlocked at 2-2 on a resolution to rescind the five-year-old resolution that would transfer the building from the village to town management.

Town Supervisor Robert Butler and Town Councilwoman Mary Brandow voted Tuesday against rescinding the original resolution, and council members Michael Ragaini and Shannon Spinner voted to rescind it. Councilman Anthony Paluch was absent and will likely act as the deciding vote when the town board reconsiders the resolution at the next meeting Sept. 20.

Council members who do not want the town to take over the building instead want to build a new town hall.

Village Mayor Amy Serrago did not hold out much hope the resolution would be rejected.

“I anticipate that when they vote again at their next meeting, it will not go our way,” Serrago said.

In the meantime, village officials want the town to make good on the back rent, especially if the original deal falls through.

“There is no reason they shouldn’t have to pay rent,” Village Trustee Nancy Poylo said.

The building was supposed to be turned over to the town in January 2019, but that didn’t happen, Serrago said.

“When I came in as a trustee, we were always told there is one more thing to finalize, one more thing to finalize. It kept being put off, and then the whole thing was dropped,” Serrago said. “It was voted on over the years by different entities, and now it’s not going to happen.”

Town Supervisor Robert Butler confirmed the town has not made rent payments in several years.

“The original plan was for the building to be turned over on Jan. 1, 2019. As a result, when we made our budget in November of 2018, we removed the lease portion but left money in for utilities. It has been our position from the beginning to pay a prorated share of the utilities based on square footage providing we received copies of invoices for backup,” Butler said. “Unfortunately, we were only supplied with these invoices after my initial meeting with Amy [Serrago] after she was sworn in as mayor.”

Serrago took office this year.

Town payments will depend on what happens with the building, whether the town remains in the community center or votes to leave to build a new town hall, Butler said.

“If the town opts to remain in the building, at a minimum the village will be reimbursed the utilities,” Butler said. “If the town decides to leave the building, it is my intention to pay the utilities for 2019 and honor the expired lease agreement for 2020 and 2021. The village will need to provide the town with an up-to-date lease agreement for their remaining time in the building.”

Several issues impacted the delays on the town’s decision over the past few years, he added, including the impact of the building transfer on a grant the village received a couple of years ago, as well as the COVID-19 shutdown, which began in 2020.

Serrago said she believes the issue of spending money for a new town hall will eventually go to a public referendum, putting the decision into the hands of voters.

“I don’t think the community is behind this decision,” Serrago said. “I think the community wants the community center to be for the commmunity. I think they want the town and the village to be together in the same building.”

Lasher said she believes the issue could potentially influence the outcome of the November town elections.

“There is an upcoming election that could change the whole outlook,” Lasher said. “It might not, but it could.”

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