Sullivan County came into possession of the 84-acre property in Kenoza Lake because the owner fell behind on taxes. In 2009, county officials removed the property from the tax auction because they believed it would be a good site for a demonstration farm.
Bill Pammer, the county planning commissioner at the time, said the property “offers a diverse farming operation that could be a great example of sustainable farming.” He envisioned the project as being both a functioning farm that produced and sold various products, and an educational facility.
Over the years, the Cornell Cooperative Extension and other nonprofit groups worked to advance the project, but progress was slow. Ultimately, officials in the Town of Delaware let the county know they would like to have the property returned to the tax rolls.
Last year, the boyfriend of the previous owner, Judy Faye, offered to buy the property. County treasurer Ira Cohen said the property was appraised at $350,000, and the offer from the buyer was rejected.
At a meeting at the government center on April 19, Cohen told lawmakers that if the legislators agreed, he would move forward with a possible private sale of the farm, or it might end up being sold in the county auction.
Cohen said he was in the process of coming up with a minimum price for the property, should it go to auction.
Legislator Alan Sorensen asked whether there was any consideration that if the property sold, the county could maintain the mineral rights.
Cohen said there are buyers who go to the county auction specifically because of their interests in gas drilling, and while his office had taken some initial steps regarding the possibility of retaining mineral rights to properties at auction, the legislature had not discussed the matter, and therefore the county had not, to this point, retained the
mineral rights to any property sold at auction.
In a discussion about the matter, legislators agreed that the question should be considered as a blanket policy for properties in the future, but in the case of the Kenoza Lake farm, there was not enough time to put such parameters on the sale and have those parameters appear in the advertising materials for the auction, which will be held on June 20 and 21 at Sullivan County Community College.
Legislator Cindy Gieger said that she had talked with some of the groups working on the sustainable education project, and it did not seem to her that they had ceased their efforts. The consensus of the body, however, was that the project should continue and perhaps another suitable property would be found in the future, but the Kenoza Lake property should be sold.
Gieger was the only legislator to vote against going forward with the sale.