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St. Lawrence County tax auction is Saturday

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The St. Lawrence County auction of tax-acquired property Saturday in Ogdensburg will not include Massena’s Sunrise Mall because the county has not decided what to do about asbestos in the basement yet.

The county took title to the building at 50 Main St. for back taxes of about $45,000 and sold it for $5,000 at auction last year, but returned the money and never transferred the title because it determined that the sole bidder, Shakil Ahmad, was acting as an agent for the previous owner, Malik Estate, Port Jefferson Station. The county was alerted when Mr. Ahmad told tenants to pay rent to the former owner.

County Attorney Michael C. Crowe declined comment on a notice of claim Mr. Ahmad filed against the county.

The county conducted a study of hazardous materials in the building and found asbestos only in the basement. A price for cleanup has not been finalized, Mr. Crowe said. The county could clean up the contamination or leave it for the next owner.

The Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce recently moved from the building. Remaining tenants that pay their own utilities are a tattoo parlor and a hair salon.

“We decided not to take rent to avoid the liability of being a landlord on tax-acquired property,” Mr. Crowe said.

Although the tenants do not pay rent, they watch over the building for the county, he said.

The auction of properties the county has ready for sale will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Lockwood Arena, West River Street, Ogdensburg. Registration begins at 9 a.m.

The county started off with plans to sell about 250 properties in foreclosure, more than the typical 100 to 150 parcels it has sold in years past. People are allowed to pay back taxes and redeem their property until the close of business Friday, so parcels listed on the county’s website may not end up available for sale.

So far, more than 50 parcels have been redeemed.

Property owners were lining up Monday to redeem property.

“They’re coming in one after another,” Treasurer Kevin M. Felt said. “This week is usually crazy.”

On Monday, the Board of Legislators agreed to pull five parcels from the auction, three in the town of Colton, one in Fine and one in Parishville, to consider easements on them for the county trail system before they are sold. Parts of the parcels could be used as trail heads or are useful because of their proximity to the proposed trail.

Some legislators argued individuals should get first crack at bidding and then have the county negotiate with the new owners.

“I believe the public should have the right to bid on these properties to determine the market value other than steal it,” Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, said.

However, others thought the county should seize the moment on the foreclosed woodlots.

“The owner is St. Lawrence County,” Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction said. “This is an opportunity for us to make sure our trail is complete. I think it’s wise to get this done.”

The auction listing includes a number of inaccessible lots, debris-strewn parcels and wetlands, but it also offers farmland, stores, livable houses, storage buildings and apartments.

Most of the property listed is in the northeast part of the county, concentrated in the towns of Brasher, Norfolk, Potsdam and Stockholm and in the village and town of Massena.

The reason is not clear.

“It’s probably a coincidence,” Mr. Felt said. “It’s all speculation, with GM closing and Alcoa cutting back.”

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