The city saved the local police training center from foreclosure Monday, staving off the “imminent” auction of a non-profit group that fell victim to a loophole in the state’s tax exemption law.
The Zone 5 Law Enforcement Center has been in danger of foreclosure since nearly the moment its operators purchased the building at the end of Erie Boulevard.
The buyers presumed that since they ran a non-profit agency, they would not have to pay taxes on the building. But tax law requires owners to file tax exemption paperwork nine months prior to the start of their exemption. Until then, they must pay the taxes, which the academy never did.
“It’s a hole in the law,” Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said.
By the time academy operators filed for their exemption, they owed two years of school taxes — about $40,000 — plus $4,000 in city taxes. Then interest and fees began to add up.
“It doubled. Tripled,” Van Norden said. “They paid a portion of it. They didn’t have the money to redeem the rest.”
He negotiated with American Tax Funding, which buys the city’s delinquent tax liens, and got the company to eliminate its fees and interest, charging the academy only $37,000. But the academy didn’t have that much cash.
So the City Council voted Monday to pay the bill for the academy in return for free training of its recruits.
The academy will give the city $37,500 in free training, which amounts to free classes for the rest of the this year and all of the next two years.
“The idea was to stop the foreclosure from happening. It was imminent,” Van Norden said.
In other business, the council unanimously approved a new way of paving streets, which City Engineer Paul Cassillo said would add about 10 years of life to each road.
The city normally rips up old pavement and rebuilds roads so that they last for decades. But the city has only repaved about 1.6 miles of road a year with that process in the past two decades, and now up to 20 percent of the city’s main roads are in “poor” condition, according to Cassillo’s inspections.
Many of those roads could be fixed if the city hires a company that can heat the top layer of asphalt, pour in new oil and cover it with a thin top coat.
Streets begin to crack as the oil in the asphalt ages and becomes less flexible. Adding new oil costs about two-thirds less than a complete rebuild, Cassillo said.
He told the council that the cheaper process is simply the only way to begin addressing the city’s badly damaged roads.
“It’s a way for us to start what we need to do,” he said.
The council also organized a mountain bike summit, which will take place today at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
Council members and city staff will meet with three representatives of the mountain bike group that has built jumps and obstacles on various trails in Central Park. The group came to the city’s attention when it began to clear trails in an area that had been designated forever wild.
Acting Mayor Gary McCarthy said the council will only discuss letting bicyclists use the trails if they remove some of their jumps.
“There are a few structures and places on that trail that would be deemed high risk and have to be removed,” he said.
Kristin Scharf, who spoke for the bicyclists, said the jumps aren’t dangerous.
“We don’t do flips. We just like being out in the woods,” she said, adding that the city should praise the group for cleaning and maintaining forest trails in the park.
“The work is making the trails accessible to the whole community, including joggers, hikers and dog walkers,” she said. “Now the trails are a clean, safe, enjoyable place.”
She cited several examples of urban mountain bike trails, including routes in New York City and Rutland, Vt., and said the city should be able to provide a safe trail in Central Park.
“We are confident that we will be able to work together with the council to come up with a solution that works for everyone,” she said.