white deer

A white buck stands in a clearing at the former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus. 

While assessors work out a new tax arrangement for the 7,000 acres of the former Seneca Army Depot land's current $28 million value, a purchase and sale agreement has been signed by the winning bidder, Earl Martin. The property is the home of a rare herd of white, white-tailed deer, and was subject to an extensive bidding process that closed in March.

That agreement includes a one- to two-year lease, which has been exercised, said Bob Aronson, executive director of the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency.

"We knew we were going to have to figure out some way of dealing with the tax situation, the assessment situation," he said. "This is the way we've found to do it."

The arrangement has made some people upset, including Patti Nogle, who owns a parcel of agricultural land between the depot's fence and the air strip fence in Romulus. Nogle, who resides in Fayette, said she and her husband had submitted a bid for an approximately 55 acre portion of the land, which was not accepted by the IDA. She said she feels her bid was never truly considered.

"The bulk of the community is not happy about what they're doing," she said.

In that application to bid, she added, the contract was a "bid to buy," and not a "bid to lease." In the "Invitation to Bid" contract it says: "The form of the Contract has been developed by the Agency for the purposes of the sale of the Property, and is non-negotiable." But it also says, "the Agency reserves the right to alter the terms of the Contract in its sole and absolute discretion."

"We're upset," Nogle said. "I think it's all lacking in this whole decision. I think that they're wronging not only us in their decision, but the whole community by the taxes not coming in on the property as promised."

Aronson said he understands where Nogle is coming from in regard to the bid selections, but, he said, not enough bids for parts of the property came in to make accepting partial bids worth while.

"We had the hopes that if there were enough bids for bits and pieces, maybe that could have been considered, but it was our goal to sell the entire depot," he said. "That wouldn't have happened because the partial bids didn't come close to covering the entire acreage." 

As far as the bidding contract and moving forward with a lease prior to the sale, Aronson said nothing is changing other than the structure of the transaction.

When the IDA next meets, Aronson said they will work on a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) plan. He said it may take a few months to create as there will need to be a public hearing on the matter, and there still needs to be an environmental review on the property. Once the PILOT plan is agreed on and begins, the lease closes. Aronson said if a new assessment works out, it will move to closing, and Martin will pay what he offered at bid, $900,000.

Nogle, however, said she researched what the taxes would be on the portion she bid for, and was prepared to handle the finances.

"If (Earl) Martin didn't do that, shame on him," she said. "This is our personal opinion. He's playing a game so he doesn't have to pay taxes for the next two years."

Taxes have not been paid on the land for decades as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the IDA have been tax-exempt. But Martin will be paying some funds as the PILOT plan will act as Martin's tax payments until an assessment is determined. 

"Everything takes time," Aronson said. "In this business, slow is fast."

Staff writer Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (315) 282-2237 or gwendolyn.craig@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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County Government Reporter