Supervisors will consider resolution to help Seneca White Deer with funds
– By Josh Durso
On Tuesday, Dennis Money, President of Seneca White Deer, Inc. made an impassioned plea to the Board of Supervisors to act as his organization face extinction.
While Money did not go to Tuesday’s meeting of the Agriculture & Environmental Affair Committee expecting monetary support – the committee did pass a resolution, which will go to the full-board at in little more than a week.
The resolution would provide monetary support for Seneca White Deer in an amount not to exceed $54,000. No written version of the resolution was immediately available.
However, the Committee – led by Supervisor Paul Kronenwetter, R-Seneca Falls; and Cindy Lorenzetti, D-Fayette – both voted in favor of the County extending monetary support.
The strained relationship between Money’s organization and Earl Martin, the Seneca County resident who owns the acreage at the former depot, has been well-documented over the last several days.
On Friday, Seneca White Deer publicly announced that tours would be ending at the end of the month due to financial hardships. The primary challenge, as Money explained at Tuesday’s meeting, is a $10,000 per month licensing agreement for use of the property.
“It was heavily built in Martin’s favor,” Money explained. While he admitted that past legal representation failed them – Money says Seneca White Deer went into the arrangement with Martin at the advice of the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency.
“The IDA suggested to Earl [Martin] that he work with us because we had already been doing tours on the property,” Money said, giving some of the newer supervisors background on the lifecycle of Seneca White Deer.
Perhaps the most-telling moment was when Money let the supervisors know that Martin had applied to take Seneca White Deer’s trademark before the group even announced that they would be ending tours.
“It might be legal but it doesn’t pass the smell test,” Supervisor Kronenwetter added. The move to take the trademark and branding, by legal force, was enough to frustrate some supervisors to action.
“”He filed on December 2nd, for our name,” Money added. “I think that takes a lot of gall.”
“We have to do something,” Supervisor Lorenzetti responded. Several supervisors who were at the meeting, but not part of the committee, were visibly surprised by that information. “So you’re saying he acted on taking your organization’s name before you even announced that you were ending tours?” Lorenzetti asked.
“We were setup to fail. We could either talk, or we could walk,” Money explained to the supervisors. Earlier reporting by FingerLakes1.com showcased the difficult rent situation Seneca White Deer faced on the property. That license agreement was for $10,000 per month until this past September, when Martin secured taxpayer dollars through an IDA-approved PILOT agreement.
But rent was decreased less than 20 percent.
“We’d still be paying more than $100,000 per year just to use the property,” Money said. Rent should be no more than 8-10 percent of any organization’s gross revenue. “In the agreement we were locked into with Earl [Martin] rent accounted for 50 percent of gross revenues.”
It wasn’t sustainable for Seneca White Deer, and after the announcement that Martin and his team plan on re-launching tours – one supervisor on the committee thought that perhaps the County should back away from the problem.
Supervisor Ralph Lott, R-Seneca Falls expressed his caution during the debate. “Maybe we should just be happy as a County that there are going to be tours on the depot,” he added. It wasn’t a sentiment either of the other supervisors on the committee shared.
“I think he exploited you guys, and set you up to fail with a $10,000 per month rent,” Supervisor Lorenzetti said. She requested that County Attorney David Ettman look at ways Seneca County could approach the situation.
Perhaps the most-telling moments of the session came when Money explained the community wide investment in Seneca White Deer and the former Seneca Army Depot.
Under the license agreement between Seneca White Deer and Martin – a large structure that was built on the site by donations made to the not for profit – the landowner takes ownership of that structure. “That was built by the people who gave back to our organization,” Money said. “Earl [Martin] will take ownership of that when our operation ends.”
Supervisor Bob Hayssen, R-Varick, had harsh words for the way Money was treated. “It’s nothing short of extortion,” he said.
The full-board will consider the resolution at a special session next week.
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