The Seneca County Board of Supervisors waited in anticipation for a presentation about the current Cayuga Nation taxation situation from Frank Sinicropi, the county’s treasurer — but the latest breaking development wasn’t ever publicly acknowledged by the time the session started on Tuesday.
“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 explaining — until Board Chairman Bob Hayssen interrupted, “wait, wait, wait” — advising him to “leave that part out for now.” Earlier this week a court ruled denying the Seneca County’s certiorari.
Sources at the county level confirmed to FingerLakes1.com that the Board of Supervisors were already notified about the Supreme Court’s disinterest with not reviewing the county’s petition — just a day ahead of their meeting, but actively sought to keep it out of the official record and meeting minutes while Sinicropi’s presentation unfolded in real-time.
“The certiorari denial makes clear that Seneca County’s 10-year dream of foreclosing on Nation property has been a waste of taxpayer assets,” Maria Stagliano, an account executive Levick, who represents the Cayuga Nation, later wrote to FingerLakes1.com after the meeting.
Shortly after the overnight demolition occurred, the Nation filed for the paperwork and paid a permit fee in order to clear the debris from the property in March 2020. However, the county denied their permit since real property taxes were left outstanding.
Stagliano believes that the preexisting county law “seemingly targets the Nation” even though they have repeatedly offered to “immediately” remove the debris from their properties upon receiving the demolition permits.
Now, the Nation is now even suggesting that the county’s condition on payment of taxes to acquire permits “appears to be illegal” — citing a 1996 legal opinion from the New York Attorney General in the process.
General Opinion 96-45 essentially argues that “a municipality is not authorized to condition the issuance of permits or licenses affecting real upon the payment of delinquent real property taxes.”
Currently, the Cayuga Nation owes $6,221,521.30 in back taxes — in Seneca Falls alone.
Admittedly, the Board of Supervisors has been talking about the Nation’s nonpayment of properties in the county for “as long I can remember,” Sinicropi recalled. Instead of trying to “resolve the tax issue tonight” he’s asking them to “consider the negative impact… of the current state of the two parcels on the east side of Route 89.”
As a resident of Seneca Falls, Sinicropi considers the aforementioned properties as eyesores along a scenic byway — one that “would not be tolerated in any other area” — except on Nation-owned lands.
“My neighbors and I along with the tourists have to look at these piles of debris every day. This would not be tolerated in any other area,” Sinicropi said.
He also raises a health concern regarding the former cannery and Sugar Shack properties — becoming a home for unwanted pests.
“Buildings in their conditions are home for feral cats, rats, skunks, raccoons, possums, and other wild animals not wanted in our one neighborhood,” Sinicropi explained. “These two properties are an eyesore in my neighborhood.”
That’s when he proposed the Board to Supervisors to revisit a possible solution — allowing the Nation to clear the debris without paying their taxes — making an exception to the county statute.
“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,” Sinicropi suggested.
Proposing an amendment for the issuance of the demolition permits to the Cayuga Nation in the absence of back taxes being paid sparked an intensely heated debate among local county officials.
Supervisor Cindy Lorenzetti said that “we can’t just make an amendment for the Cayuga Nation” — insisting that it would have to be for “everybody” and not just for the Nation along Route 89.
Sinicropi responded, saying that the Nation is “not treated like anybody else” by the federal government that classifies them as “something special and something different” even if he doesn’t fully understand it himself.
Although the United States government federally recognizes the Cayuga Nation for its long-standing treaty rights and inherent sovereignty, Lorenzetti suggested that “this county doesn’t have to.”
Meanwhile, Supervisor Paul Kronenwetter admitted that he agrees with Sinicropi “100-percent,” speaking from personal experience as someone who lives even closer to the demolition site than him.
Even Supervisor Ralph Lott admitted that he wouldn’t pay taxes if it were voluntary, when asked by Sinicropi — just like the Nation. Yet, he insisted that he “pays a lot” in taxes each year within Seneca County — considering it unfair that the Nation is not obligated to do the same.
“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,” Lott said. “And I am tired of it. I will never, mark my words, never agree to let them clean that mess up.”
Lorenzetti remembered how the Cayuga Nation Police Department “went in in the middle of night and tore down,” claiming that the Nation should “pick the sh-t up then after the fact if they really cared.”
Lott also believed that it would be “bad business” as county supervisors to even approve such an amendment “because that’s taking more county taxpayer money and it throwing it down that rat hole.”
Seneca Falls Town Supervisor Michael Ferrara even sought to find it how much it’d cost for the debris to be cleaned up, ask if neighbors “want to chip in” and eventually meet with Ray Halbritter — mistakenly naming the CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises instead of Clint Halftown, the federally recognized leader of the Cayuga Nation.
“If the county gives me permission to clean it up, we’ll have somebody pay for it. Maybe Ray will pay for it,” Ferrara said.
Despite those strongly opinionated sentiments from county officials, “the Nation offered to seek a permit as a good neighbor, but the county refused to issue it,” according to Stagliano.
“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.” she added.
As for Sinicropi, who openly supported offering amnesty for the Nation from the preexisting county law, he concluded his presentation — believing that the Board of Supervisors “are not punishing the Nation” by denying their permit application and instead “punishing those taxpayers in my neighborhood.”
“So, I hope you on this board will consider the necessary temporary changes to the local law to resolve this stalemate, because without action from you, nothing will be done,” Sinicropi ended.
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