It has been more than a year since several properties along State Route 89 were mostly destroyed by the Clint Halftown led faction of the Cayuga Nation, but the future of a couple of them remains a looming issue for county officials.
It comes down to a clause in county law, which requires taxes to be paid-up in order to obtain a permit to complete demolition work. In this case, the county mandated any additional clean-up efforts be paused after the initial destruction last February, until the taxes were up to date.
Across the street two properties that were leveled in February 2020 have been cleaned up. The county’s position throughout has been that an exception is not on the table, but some supervisors could be getting closer to caving.
The properties in question are on the east side of Route 89, which sits directly across from Cayuga Lake State Park. It is a tourist destination in Seneca Falls, and one that undoubtedly attracts a lot of visitors.
Seneca County Treasurer Frank Sinicropi provided the supervisors with an update at this month’s regularly scheduled meeting held June 8. “The Cayuga Nation is not going to pay taxes on these two parcels until the Supreme Court of the United States does something…. Well, they did do something today, we know that they’re not going to…,” Sinicropi began during the meeting.
Chairman Bob Hayssen interrupted, advising him to leave details out of the update regarding a court ruling that denied Seneca County’s certiorari.
The update triggered a debate about what the Board should do, if anything, about the Nation’s unpaid taxes—with legal avenues closing up.
Afterward, the Cayuga Nation suggested the county’s condition on paying taxes to acquire permits “appears to be illegal.” Maria Stagliano, an account executive who represents the Cayuga Nation, said the entire local law appears to target the Nation. The supervisors have debated the local law requiring property taxes to be paid-up in order to obtain any kind of work permit, but have typically done so under the context of troublesome rental properties.
Further complicating matters is a 1996 legal opinion from the state’s attorney general. General Opinion 96-45 reads, “A municipality is not authorized to condition the issuance of permits or licenses affecting real upon the payment of delinquent real property taxes.”
As has been reported in recent months, the Cayuga Nation owes around $6.2 million in back taxes in Seneca Falls.
“Buildings in their conditions are home for feral cats, rats, skunks, raccoons, possums, and other wild animals not wanted in our one neighborhood,” Sinicropi added during his presentation. He lives in the area in question, and said it would not be tolerated in other parts of the community.
“If they are willing to clean up the mess, grant them some sort of amnesty form for local law that would showcase the beauty of Route 89 corridor, eliminate nesting areas for wild and feral animals and make my neighborhood a much nicer place to live,” he suggested.
Supervisor Cindy Lorenzetti, of Fayette, said one rule would need to be created for everyone, not just a special exception for the Cayuga Nation.
“I got to live with it. I’m passionate about this thing, and my parents did; and since we came here in 1980, we have been fighting those Indians, and we just cannot for the life of me win a battle,” Supervisor Ralph Lott, of Seneca Falls, said. “And I am tired of it. I will never, mark my words, never agree to let them clean that mess up.” He called it “bad business” to approve those kinds of amendments because it would reflect taking more taxpayer money and throwing it down a “rat hole.”
“Seneca County has been standing in the way of the Cayuga Nation’s much-needed debris cleanup for more than a year—with thin and likely illegal excuses for why the permit has not been granted,” Stagliano added about the entire debate.
While Seneca Falls Town Supervisor Mike Ferrara offered a way to have the community assist with clean-up to get the site back to normal—that does not appear to be a viable path forward either.
Sinicropi concluded his presentation asking the board to consider a temporary change to the local law to resolve the ongoing issue.