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South Glens Falls facing more financial trouble

The immediate future for South Glens Falls is looking scary, Mayor Harry Gutheil said.

Sales tax revenue plummeted last month, and mortgage tax is down as well. Now village officials are staring into the unknown: a major tax challenge from SCA Tissue, which is being fought by the town. There’s been some talk of trying to get the biggest taxpayer in the village to settle by offering a smaller tax bill, but village officials have no idea how much they might lose.

“We’re left in the dark. Whatever happens, we’re going to hear about it after the fact,” Gutheil said. “It’s going to affect every taxpayer, not only in the town tax they pay but also the school tax, even the library tax.”

He proposed at Wednesday’s board meeting that the village file for “intervenor status.” That would allow the village attorney to have a seat at the table — involved in all negotiations and in the trial if it comes to that.

Gutheil pushed for that status even though it would cost the village money.

“We’ve tried to get some communication with the town,” Gutheil said. “We don’t have a handle on it and we need to protect our interests.”

But the village hasn’t budgeted anything for tax cases. It turned over control to the town assessor years ago, primarily to avoid costly cases, board member Bill Hayes said.

“I understand partly where you’re coming from, but we didn’t have to defend anything and all the costs were assumed by the town,” he said. “That’s the reason we don’t have a village assessor anymore.”

Gutheil acknowledged that.

“But I’m looking at what it will cost our people, and it’s a lot more than the legal fees,” he said.

He added that the village’s financial future is looking bleak.

“Our sales tax revenue is down,” he said. “Our mortgage tax is down. If the town settles (the SCA Tissue case), the exposure is not good.”

Year-to-date, the village is only down $2,400 in sales tax. It has received $533,462 so far this year. But in the last month, it saw a big decrease. Last year at this time, it received $80,000 in sales tax. This time, it received $69,000.

“It’s concerning,” Gutheil said.

After a discussion in executive session on attorney costs for the SCA Tissue case, the board made no decision. Board members are awaiting more information from the village attorney on precise costs. They may be able to choose an option in which the attorney is copied on all legal paperwork but does not take on the more costly task of appearing in court and at negotiations.

Gutheil said he just wants to know what’s going on.

“We’d like to be informed, and if we’re not going to be, we’ll look at intervenor status,” he said after the meeting.

Culvert Street house renovation work starts

GLENS FALLS — It did not take long for Darren Tracy to start working on preserving the historic house at 5 Culvert St. after acquiring the property from the city.

The Common Council voted on Oct. 24 to sell him the vacant building for $1.

“We closed last Friday at 9 o’clock, and at 9:15 I was over working on the project,” he said Thursday.

The tiny home measures 627 square feet and was once used as the medical office of 19th century physician Dr. James Ferguson. It is on the state and federal historic registers as one of the handful of Second Empire houses remaining in Glens Falls. The city seized the home for back taxes in 2014.

A portion of the roof and the upstairs floor have collapsed.

The first step was to use a manlift to assess the condition of the building and come up with a plan of attack, he said. The next step was to install a temporary wooden roof structure and order a heavy-duty tarp that will cover it.

“That will keep the building watertight for the winter and buy us some time and allow us to work inside — either over the winter or next spring,” he said.

Tracy said the interior is in poor condition.

“It looks like a bomb went off, literally,” he said.

There is trash strewn everywhere, he said. Much of the furniture got wet and had to be thrown away.

He is trying to find a masonry contractor to rebuild a corner of the roof before winter. Tracy also took measures of the structure to produce a set of blueprints.

Other initial work included cutting two trees that were crowding the building in the front and cleaning up debris around the exterior of the building, according to Tracy.

It may take a year or two to complete the project, he said. His plans for the property are for it to remain residential.

Tracy has 30 years of engineering experience in historic renovation projects, including moving a historic Victorian house that sat on land sought by the Schuylerville school district for expansion.

Police make arrest for theft of goods from monastery

WHITE CREEK — State Police arrested a Vermont woman Thursday for theft of goods from the Nuns of New Skete after troopers shared surveillance photos via social media.

The monastery has long made products, including its renowned cheesecakes and other baked goods, available with payment on the honor system at the gift shop in its monastery on Ash Grove Road.

But police said thieves have been taking advantage of the good will, and earlier this week they released surveillance photos of two women who they believed to have been involved in recent thefts.

Leads generated from those photos led to the arrest of Angelique E. Smith, 45, of North Arlington, Vermont for misdemeanor petit larceny Thursday evening, police said.

State Police said Smith went into the unmanned gift shop with her 21-year-old daughter, who was not charged, on two occasions, stealing $250 worth of cheesecakes and pastries. The cakes sell for $49 and up through the monastery website.

Trooper Dane Pfeiffer, who investigated the case, said the agency’s decision to release surveillance photos of the two women generated leads from social media, including information about potential suspects that ultimately led to an arrest.

Smith is scheduled to appear in White Creek Town Court on Nov. 16.

State Police also investigated a similar theft last June, and surveillance video was used to identify an elderly Bennington, Vermont, woman who paid $132 restitution after she was confronted by troopers for goods she stole from the organization’s gift shop. But she was not charged, because the nuns declined to have the case prosecuted.

This time, the nuns have opted to have the thieves prosecuted, Pfeiffer said.

New Skete operates two monasteries — one run by nuns, the other by monks, in White Creek. The monks raise purebred German shepherd dogs on a property to the east on New Skete Road.

A representative of the monastery said the organization had no comment on the matter Thursday.