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25 Sperry Lane

The Lansing Town Board declaring a public safety emergency at 25 Sperry Lane during a special meeting on June 26th.  After our story on the unanimous decision to authorize Lansing Code Enforcement Officer Lynn Day to take measures to demolish the wreck of a house at 25 Sperry Lane and restore the property to a safe condition, readers commented on the Lansing Star Facebook page, asking questions about what it will cost, when the work will be done, and who will pay for the demolition.

"We, as tax payers, need to know who is paying this bill," said one Facebook user.  "It better not be the tax payers!"

The simple answer is that the homeowner will pay, and the work will be done within a few weeks.

That may be an over-simplification.

The home, which was under construction when a devastating fire decimated it on May 13th, 2018.  It took 65 firefighters four hours to put out the blaze.  Lansing Fire Chief Scott Purcell says that he has not received a report from fire inspectors on the cause of the fire.  He said at the time he was told it could take six to eight months because the inspectors were backed up, and surmised he still hasn't received it because the lead inspector was killed in an accident (not related to the fire).

Day has inspected the site numerous times since the fire, and notified the owner that the site is unsafe and must be restored to a safe condition.  After over a year of further deterioration Day asked the Town Board to declare an emergency so he could see to restoring the site.

Upon receiving the go-ahead from the Town Board Day solicited three bids.  He is not required to solicit sealed bids because the emergency was declared, but Day says he did so to insure the site can be cleaned up as quickly as possible after the July 10th deadline.

"The owner has until the 10th to take care of it or come to me with a plan," Day said Tuesday. "If they do not I will call these contractors to see who can get there the fastest.  That's why I got three prices.  Hopefully somebody can jump right in there."

The cost to the Town will be between $26,000 and $29,000, though that money will almost certainly be reimbursed to the Town either by the landowner or Tompkins County. 

25 Sperry Lane

So Lansing taxpayers are not on the hook for the money, and may even see some benefit, because if the homeowner doesn't take care of the demolition, he or she is charged 50% of the amount the Town actually spent in addition to the cost incurred to to restore the site, making the owner liable for 150% of the cost.

"The information would be given to the Assessment office and put on the 2020 Town and County tax bill," says the Tompkins County Treasury Division's Treasury Manager Melanie Merriman.  ""The towns turn their unpaid list over to us, and then we begin collection.  We reconcile with each other when they come in in May. "

But, of course, town taxpayers are also county taxpayers.  Each year the towns collect taxes, and any taxes they are unable to collect are paid to them by Tompkins County.  Then it is up to the county to collect the taxes.  If they are unable to do that the County will start foreclosure proceedings.  Merriman says there are no delinquent taxes on the property to date.

"I was for this resolution, because it's been my attitude from day one that you treat everyone the same, regardless of whether they're your brother, your mother, or your cousin... whatever," Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne said Monday.  "I relied on our code officer, Lynn Day, to tell us when we should move in a different direction, as he does in a lot of situations, not just this one.  When it was time to move in a different direction, we did."

LaVigne noted that the situation has come up in a few cases in the past, citing the green house behind the Pit Stop as an example.  He says in that case the owner took care of the demolition before the deadline.  The old Chris and Greens restaurant building was also demolished by the property owner after negotiations with town officials.  That case was different because, while the Town received many complaints that the building was ugly, it wasn't structurally at risk so couldn't be condemned.

The best case scenario for everybody would be for the property owner to get the demolition and site restoration done before next Wednesday's deadline. 

The worst case scenario is that the Town pays for the work, then adds 50% of its cost to the next tax bill, making the property owner liable for the money.  If it is still not paid, the Town gets the money from the County, but then the County has to try to collect it.  If they cannot, the County Treasury Division can foreclose on the property, and extract the money from its sale.  Which means that even in the worst case scenario the property owner ultimately pays, not taxpayers.

"If the demo cost is re-levied as authorized by the Town of Lansing and it goes unpaid...the town is still going to get the money for that demolition charge assuming that the charge is reasonable," says Tompkins County Director of Assessment Jay Franklin. "The county makes the towns/schools/villages whole (they get exactly the amount of their tax levy absent any corrections/settlements/etc). The county then enforces the unpaid taxes."

Franklin says the Sperry Road property has been reassessed at $41,800.  If taxes go unpaid for two years, Franklin says the County begins foreclosure proceedings, and either makes back the money owed or looses money if the proceeds of the sale of the house aren't high enough.  So in the very worst case scenario the County could lose money on a foreclosure.

"Ideally the county just wants to recoup the amount of delinquent charges on a property," Franklin says. "Once the county forecloses on the property, the county either makes money or loses money."

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