DEPOT DELAY: Seneca Co. Board members sound off over IDA bid process, lease agreement

For Seneca Falls Supervisor Stephen Churchill and Fayette Town Supervisor Cindy Lorenzetti there were always questions about controversial Depot sale.

The sale of the former Seneca Army Depot has been a contentious issue within the Seneca County Board of Supervisors, as well as with bidders and constituents who now feel they were misled through the IDA’s process. It was a process intended to find a buyer for the former Army Depot, which would provide a more stable, concrete future for the 7,000-acres, which is the home of a rare deer herd.

On Monday’s edition of Weber this Week, host Harold Weber had Supervisors Churchill and Lorenzetti in-studio to discuss the bid process, where the issue stands now, and how they hope to see it play out. The pair also discussed the controversial sales tax sharing plan, which is being moved from a special committee at the board-level, to the government operations standing committee this month.

“What qualifies the [Seneca County] IDA to run a process like this?” Supervisor Churchill said recounting the question he had for the rest of the board when his proposal for the Seneca County Board of Supervisors to take ownership was being debated. “I think what we’re finding out a year later is that the answer was ‘nothing’, they weren’t qualified to run the bid process,” he continued. “It’s turned into a fiasco — and they’ve changed the rules along the way.”

He went on even questioning how much of a process it actually was at it’s core. “Was there a fix in? Kind of feels like it,” Churchill continued. He also questioned how Earl Martin, the winner chosen by the IDA, couldn’t have known that he would owe property taxes on land after the bid was accepted, and sale completed.

For Supervisor Lorenzetti — the issue has been a tougher fight. She sits as the Board of Supervisors’ representative on the Seneca County IDA board, which means that she carries a vote with her at those meetings. She agreed with the process in principle, before the lease option came into view. “I’ve been the only ‘no’ vote since the lease concept was introduced,” she explained. “I don’t know why the rules got changed during the eleventh hour,” Lorenzetti told Weber during their conversation.

“I think it’s time for the Board of Supervisors to step in and take some action,” she continued. “I think we have the support of Seneca County residents.”

It’s a problem that goes all the way to the top. “I think we need to look at administration,” Lorenzetti added. It was the first time any board member had publicly questioned IDA leadership since the bid process had become complicated.

As Churchill explained this isn’t the first time that ‘accountability’ has come up as an issue within the IDA. “There’s only three people on staff,” Churchill said during his explanation of how oversight is executed with the tax breaks handed out by the IDA. “The answer is ‘no’,” he continued, pointing out that there is no one on staff circling back with businesses who received various incentives and packages to come into Seneca County to do business.

Lorenzetti, who chairs the government operations standing committee says that she’d like to see the board receive monthly updates on what the IDA is doing. “Not just financial updates, but a full-report on a monthly basis from leadership,” she explained. “I think we need to have more accountability. We should be able to give them a format and have them come to every meeting with an update,” Lorenzetti concluded.

Some of the qualifications of that report could include:

– What packages are being considered by the board;
– Are businesses following through making payments, filling jobs as promised;
– Identifying what types of incentives are actually benefiting Seneca County.

Lorenzetti admitted that part of the blame rests on the board’s shoulders. “We haven’t asked for this before, but times have changed and people want to know,” she continued. Adding that this oversight would be a major benefit to communities across Seneca County.

Another issue highlighted by Lorenzetti regarding the IDA handling of the Depot sale connected to the three individuals who had previously leased land from the IDA along, or within the 7,000-acres of property. “I think they were treated unfairly, and I’m going to look into that going forward.” One of those individuals, Patty Nogle spoke at the most-recent meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

She questioned the process, citing that she and her husband had put in an offer on the piece of property that they had leased for a number of years — and was ultimately turned down because the IDA had led bidders to believe that they were looking for a buyer.

“[The IDA] has proven time-and-time again that they can do whatever they want,” Churchill chimed after Lorenzetti explained that IDA attorney’s have said that individual leases will not be possible within a larger, overall lease to one bidder like Martin.” Both agreed that something needed to be done to correct the number of issues they [and many others] see with the process to this point.

Check out the entire discussion about the former Seneca Army Depot in the video window below: