School’s out, for good

County prepares to sell Ockawamick property it bought in 2009

HUDSON–A committee of the county Board of Supervisors has recommended to the full board that the county sell the old Ockawamick School building and the surrounding property on Route 217 in Claverack. The county purchased the building in 2009 for just over a million dollars, but the site, which was intended to be a county government campus, has gone largely unused since.

In explaining the reason for selling the 77,000-square-foot building on 24 acres, which was once one of two schools in the Taconic Hills School District, Board of Supervisors Chairman Patrick Grattan (R-Kinderhook) said, “The time has come to consider selling Ockawamick, because the money being used for maintenance, insurance, heat, etc. can be better used in the county.”

The special Board of Supervisors subcommittee on the county’s cash flow said in May of this year that since 2010 the county has had a cash flow deficit of $30 million and could face a deficit of as much as $15 million this year alone. In response county officials have been looking at ways to reduce county spending and increase revenue.

Mr. Grattan said after the meeting that the county currently spends about $65,000 a year to maintain the building and grounds, keep the old school heated and insured. The county Facilities Department is headquartered there and some of the space is used for storage.

Hillsdale Supervisor Arthur Baer (R) was the chairman of the board when the building was purchased and led the effort that won support for the acquisition despite public protests against the proposed use of the site to house the Department of Social Services. At the June 25 meeting of the county Government Committee, Mr. Baer told fellow supervisors, that while “disposing of underutilized assets is a good idea when the county needs cash, four years ago, when the decision was made by the Board of Supervisors to acquire the property, the majority of these same supervisors felt the building was an important part of the county’s future. We went through a rigorous due diligence process then, and I hope that the same rigor to overturn that decision is taken.”

Mr. Grattan said this week there is no buyer for the school building and that the county paid cash for the building, so there is no ongoing debt service. He said the money from the sale of the building would go to the general fund of the county budget.

The county conducted environmental assessments of the building, including an investigation of a fuel oil spill and tests for asbestos and lead-based paint before proceeding with the purchase. But even after the county took possession of the old school, the protests continued against moving the Department of Social Services (DSS) out of Hudson, and the department stayed where it was.

Mr. Baer said that despite what appears to be support on the current Board of Supervisors to sell Ockawamick, 19 of 23 on the board four years ago voted in support of the purchase.

At this point Mr. Baer wants the county to have the property appraised before it is placed on the market. He said it had desirable features, including substantial highway frontage, well kept grounds and wells.

“Sell Ockawamick, fine,” he said, “but make sure you sell it for a fair price.”

Also at the meeting last week of the County Government Committee of the Board of Supervisors, committee members adopted a resolution to convey land to Friends of Lindenwald.

Peter Bujanow, executive director of the Friends group, made a presentation tracing the timeline of the property’s historic status. It was built in 1797 and purchased by Martin Van Buren in 1839, the property has since been designated a national historic landmark and now efforts are being made to obtain grants to preserve more of the land around the home, improve programs and further develop the property for trails and other environmental uses, all of which Mr. Bujanow said would attract greater tourism to the county.

For that preservation and development to happen, the property needs to be conveyed to Friends of Lindenwald and, as county Controller Ronald Caponera explained the conveyance of county land requires the involvement of the county attorney. The committee voted to move forward with the plan.

On another matter, Real Property Tax Department Director Suzette Booy announced changes in the Star exemption. All those eligible for the exemption must reapply to claim the school tax break in 2014 either by filling out a new form online at the state Department of Taxation and Finance website, www.tax.ny.gov (look under the heading “Popular Topics”), or by calling 518 457-2036.

Committee Chairman Kevin McDonald (R-Livingston) asked how the information would be disseminated, and Ms. Booy said her department plans to post instructions in the local papers in July, and is encouraging assessors to discuss it at Town Board meetings. The state also will notify those with current exemptions.

Editor Parry Teasdale contributed to this story. To contact him email .

 

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