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Massena may sell riverfront property

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MASSENA — Edward F. Murphy purchased a house with a St. Lawrence River view several years ago. Now he and his neighbors would like to keep their vista permanently uninterrupted.

A group of Old River Road homeowners is interested in buying a piece of town-owned land on the St. Lawrence River, and some officials are interested in selling it to alleviate budget woes.

The approximately 4 acres of vacant land lies north of the road; the homes are on the south side. The homeowners want to purchase the land from the town and intend to keep it undeveloped indefinitely, Mr. Murphy said.

“It’s nothing more than for the view,” Mr. Murphy said. “What everybody is afraid of is we would buy it and flip it. That’s not the intent.”

Mr. Murphy has consistently attended Town Council meetings over the last year to reiterate the group’s continuing interest in the property.

The parcel previously was owned by the New York Power Authority, which deeded it to the town as part of its 2003 relicensing agreement.

Supervisor Joseph D. Gray’s 2013 budget proposal could prompt the council to sell the property soon. The $7,007,686 plan includes increasing the property-tax levy by more than $725,000, leaving two vacant positions at the Massena Public Library unfilled and cutting funding to most outside agencies, including the Massena Humane Society, Meals on Wheels and the Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce.

The proposed tax rate increase for those inside the village is $1.33 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, from $3.46 to $4.79, a 38.4 percent hike. For those outside the village, there is a proposed $1.32 increase, from $4.41 to $5.73, a 30 percent climb from the 2012 rate.

That means a property owner in the village with a parcel assessed at $90,000 would pay $119.70 more in town taxes than in 2012, while one outside the village with a parcel assessed at $90,000 would pay $118.80 more.

Selling the parcel could be part of the solution to this year’s budget problems, Councilman Charles A. Raiti said. He viewed the Old River Road parcel as “money in the bank” for a difficult year like this one and said that its sale could reduce the proposed cuts and tax hikes.

“That may be a saving grace,” Mr. Raiti told fellow board members at a recent budget meeting.

But Mr. Gray said the council should think “long and hard” before using the sale of a fixed asset to plug a hole in the budget. The sale likely will not be complete before the council finalizes the budget in November, he said.

Using a land sale to alleviate budget problems is only a temporary solution, Mr. Gray said.

“Anytime you use a fixed asset to fill a hole in the budget, it’s really a net loss,” Mr. Gray said. “That hole will be back again next year.”

The homeowners have not yet made a formal offer for the parcel, which the town recently had appraised at $330,000. Mr. Gray said the town was reviewing its options for selling the parcel with town attorney Eric J. Gustafson.

“If we’re going to sell this property, we have to establish the value of this property,” Mr. Gray said. “How do we market it? Where do we market it?”

Mr. Murphy disputes the $330,000 appraisal.

“If someone wants to pay you the $330,000, good luck to them,” he recently told the Town Council.

Mr. Murphy said that neither he nor his neighbors would build on the land, because it is not suitable for construction. He also said he knows of no one besides his group who is interested in buying the property.

But at a previous meeting, former Supervisor W. Gary Edwards suggested the homeowners would decide to build on the property once they received it.

“You ever go out West to the mountains?” he asked Mr. Murphy. “They build off a ... cliff out there.”

The slope on the property, the difficulties with installing septic or sewer services on such a hill and the availability of other riverfront parcels in Waddington and Louisville all count against building on the parcel, Mr. Murphy said.

“These things make it almost impossible,” Mr. Murphy said. “There’s too much more you could buy that you could build on already.”

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