MALONE - Franklin County legislators decided Thursday to forgive about $22,500 in back-tax interest and penalties on two Saranac Lake properties currently owned by ComLinks.
The Malone-based community action agency is looking to get out of the affordable housing business, transferring its properties to organizations that have more resources for dealing with that kind of venture, ComLinks Chief Operating Officer Bill Kelting told legislators. Most of them have been transferred, but the organization has hit a snag with its Saranac Lake properties.
A few years ago, ComLinks dropped the ball on its payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements on those properties. It owes taxes for the years 2008-10.
ComLinks is looking to transfer its housing at 88 Broadway, which has three units, all currently being lived in, to Franklin County Community Housing. It hopes to transfer a property at 47 Front St., a building in the Helen Hill neighborhood with 12 units, three of which are currently vacant, to another nonprofit group.
"In order for the transition to take place, the properties are supposed to be cleared of liabilities," Kelting told the board.
Kelting, ComLinks board Treasurer Greg Langdon and Byron Porter, a representative of Michel Associates LTD, a limited partner in both of the housing projects, brought money Thursday to pay off the past-due taxes; the group had owed $42,509.
But they asked legislators to forgive the $22,500 in interest and penalties that have accumulated over the years. Porter said the group had to scrape together the money to pay off the base tax and can't afford the rest of it.
"This tax thing is hanging over everyone's head," Porter said.
County Treasurer Bryon Varin noted that these buildings had their previous owners' back taxes forgiven when they were first converted to affordable housing as well. Since then, both houses were rehabilitated, but both still need some work.
Porter noted that if the penalties and interest were not forgiven, ComLinks wouldn't be able to afford to do anything with the properties and they would likely deteriorate further.
He said the group is looking to get a new property management company in by Sept. 1.
Legislator Paul Maroun said the county has done this type of thing before, using an example from years ago of the Tupper Lake's Big Tupper Ski Area. He said that time, the goal was to encourage economic development, but for ComLinks, the county could encourage keeping affordable housing in Franklin County.
"If we don't do it, we get nothing and less," Maroun said.
Legislators voted unanimously in favor of forgiving the penalties and interest, except for Legislator Marc "Tim" Lashomb, R-Malone. He introduced the ComLinks group but didn't participate in the discussion and abstained from voting on the issue, since he is on the ComLinks board.
(Editor's note: The amounts of base tax ComLinks owed and the forgiven interest and fees have been corrected.)