EVANS MILLS — A state Supreme Court judge has ordered Jefferson County to take ownership of a dilapidated former Borden milk plant on Factory Street here.
Judge James P. McClusky’s decision will be appealed, County Attorney David J. Paulsen said Wednesday.
Neither the county nor the currently listed owner, Robert M. Weichert, Baldwinsville, want the mammoth property at 8772 Factory St., as the property has not been used as a milk plant since 1958 and is in serious disrepair. Court battles between the county and Mr. Weichert over who should own the property — and ultimately be responsible for its repairs or demolition — have been waged intermittently since 2005.
Mr. Weichert acquired the property through a tax foreclosure sale in 2000 for $10,000. However, the county maintains he never paid any property taxes on it, an assertion he disputes, and the property went through a foreclosure sale again, with now-retired Judge Joseph D. McGuire issuing a judgment of foreclosure in September 2005. Mr. Weichert appealed that judgment to the state Appellate Division, Fourth Department, which affirmed Judge McGuire’s ruling in March 2007. He then tried to appeal the decision to the state Court of Appeals, but the state’s highest court declined to hear the matter.
While the litigation was pending, as well as in ensuing years, the county never filed a deed taking ownership of the property. Under state Real Property Tax Law, a judgment of foreclosure only authorizes the county’s tax enforcement officer — who is Mr. Paulsen — to convey the property to the county. The deed, however, must be executed and recorded by the tax enforcement officer before ownership of the property is transferred. The county, given the property’s condition, opted not to take this last step.
“We went out and looked at it, and decided that if we wound up having to do the demolition to remove the building, or even secure it in any meaningful way, that would cost more than we would get through selling the building,” Mr. Paulsen said.
According to court documents, Mr. Weichert has been notified periodically since 2007 that the county never assumed ownership of the property and he has received annual notices that his taxes are delinquent. The matter languished until November 2017 when Mr. Weichert received a $3,478 bill from the village for costs to secure the building, including sealing doors and windows to prevent unlawful entry. Mr. Weichert said an arrest warrant was also issued for him in connection with code violations in April 2018, prompting him to bring legal action.
“That’s very motivational,” he said of the warrant’s issuance.
Mr. Weichert, a retired Air Force colonel, said he acquired the property with the intent of using it as a truck terminal for tractor trailers, as the building had been used previously for warehousing and distribution by the Abbass Food Corp., which owned the property from 1966 until it went into tax foreclosure in 2000. Mr. Weichert paid $50,000 for a new roof, but a contract calling for a Houston company to use the facility as a terminal for military vehicles never materialized and the building sat empty. He blames the unpaid taxes on representations from the county that all due taxes were taken care of when he acquired the property at tax sale, but that he later discovered school taxes owing, which he refused to pay. After Judge McGuire’s ruling, he believed he was no longer legally responsible for the property.
“I accept my fate and I don’t do anything. I don’t go near the property; they took it away from me,” Mr. Weichert said. “The egregious part is, after Judge McGuire spoke, they decided unilaterally to do something different.”
In making his Feb. 28 ruling, Judge McClusky referenced Judge McGuire’s ruling that “dispossessed” Mr. Weichert of any right to the property and ordered the county’s tax enforcement officer to “prepare, execute and cause to be recorded” a deed conveying “full and complete title” of the parcel to the county.
“This language is unequivocal,” Judge McClusky wrote in his decision.
He gave the county 30 days from Feb. 28 to “come into full compliance” with Judge McGuire’s 2005 order. That decision will likely be stayed pending resolution of the county’s appeal.
Mr. Weichert said he plans to pursue further legal action against the county.
“Now I’ve finally got an order from Judge McClusky that says I was correct: I never owned the property since Judge McGuire took it away from me,” he said. “I’m going to sue the county big time for putting me through all this.”