Editorial: Taxpayers lose in Spa property deal
August 20, 2014.
If taxes in the city of Saratoga Springs go up by a few hundred thousand dollars in the next year or two, residents can pinpoint the date when the City Council silently made the decision to raise them.
In this case, don't blame Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who became exasperated Wednesday night when the council refused to reappraise the city-owned Collamer lot on Broadway in hopes of generating a higher price for the sale of it.
Last year, the city had the nearly-half-acre property appraised and it came in at $775,000. But recently, a local developer, Joseph Zappone of Loudonville, said his own appraisal came in at $1.6 million. He offered the city $1.1 million for the land.
But the City Council was apparently intent on selling the land to developer Joel Aronson for the appraisal price and using some of the proceeds to buy land for a new eastside emergency services center.
The decision should have been based on how the math worked out for taxpayers. With the price of the emergency station land at $200,000, the city would net about $575,000 from the deal with Aronson. If Zappone's offer was accepted, the city would walk away with $900,000.
And if the new appraisal came in at close to the $1.6 million that Mr. Zappone says the land is worth, the city might have been able to justify selling it for even more than $.1.1 million.
So it seems strange that in response to Mayor Yepsen's outward pleading for a new assessment, city commissioners sat silently when she asked for a second to her motion, refusing to even consider it. The mayor finally decided that she was wasting her breath and "regrettably" signed the contract to sell the lot to Aronson.
It is frustrating when delays keep popping up. And clearly, commissioners wanted to get this matter over with after months of going back and forth. You do eventually have to decide when to fish or cut bait. But in this case, waiting a bit longer could have netted the city a much bigger fish.
The emergency response center near Exit 14 — which is needed to serve the east side of the city, including Saratoga Lake properties — isn't going to be completed for some time anyway.
With the potential reward of an extra several hundred thousand dollars, would waiting another month or two for a third assessment have been that much of a burden? If the assessment turned out to be about the same as the first, then move forward with the existing plan. But if it turned out to be closer to the higher estimate, then move forward with a new plan.
The mayor had a right to be upset, and the council should be embarrassed by its failure to support her effort.
Ultimately, the losers in all this are the taxpayers of the city of Saratoga Springs, who will learn that soon enough when they get their tax bills.