A plan to transfer ownership of a foreclosed church in Gloversville from Fulton County to the city this week fell through when the city’s Common Council decided not to take on the liability.
The former First Methodist Church, at 7 Elm St., has been unused and vacant since about 2009, according to officials. On Monday, the Fulton County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution agreeing to transfer the property to the city for $305, waiving about $18,700 in unpaid property taxes.
But Gloversville Mayor Dayton King said the Common Council decided in executive session at a meeting Tuesday night not to accept the offer.
“We don’t want the liability, more than anything,” he said. “We don’t want to pay the maintenance to maintain it, if it needs a new roof. We don’t want somebody who’s trespassing, skateboarding, falls and cracks their head. If it’s a city of Gloversville property, we’re liable for any insurance statement.”
Fulton County foreclosed on the property a few months ago after the owner, The Church of God of Prophecy, stopped paying taxes. According to Fulton County Treasurer Edgar T. Blodgett, the church hasn’t paid since 2012, racking up $18,749 in delinquent property taxes.
The property lost its tax-exempt status in 2009 when religious services were halted.
“As soon as they stopped having services there, it no longer was a house of worship, so it’s been taxed as a normal building,” said Blodgett.
The county has not yet filed a new title to take ownership of the property, however.
“It’s not actually the county’s property until we file the title,” said Blodgett. “So we’re not liable for anything at this point, and that’s exactly why we did it that way.”
The Church of God of Prophecy, still the owner of record, was fined $60,000 for code violations in 2011 after removing the church’s stained glass windows and a clock tower, among other valuable items, according to City Attorney Anthony Casale.
“There were numerous violations at the place, but the biggest one and certainly the most frustrating one to the community was the removal of all the stained glass windows and the tower clock,” he said.
Until recently, the city was under the impression that the windows had been sold in Europe, said Casale. But in a meeting about a month ago, he said a new bishop of the church said the windows had not been sold.
“We remain hopeful at this point in time about the possibility of those windows being returned,” said Casale.
If that happens, he said, there is a possibility of the city forgiving the fines. If not, the city will likely pursue further legal action against the church to recover the fines.
Fulton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ralph Ottuso said Thursday that he had not yet been informed of the city’s decision to decline the offer, but that a meeting was planned between county and city officials today. Until that meeting, Ottuso said the next steps for the property were unknown.
Blodgett suggested that if other interested groups approached the county, they would consider a similar transfer. He mentioned the Gloversville Housing & Neighborhood Improvement Corp., although its executive director, Timothy Mattice, said his group has so far not been involved in talks.
Mattice declined to comment on whether they would be interested in taking the church.
As with the former NBT Bank building on North Main Street, all involved say they’d like to find a productive re-use for the building, which is “right in the heart of the city,” according to King. But the high costs of restoring and maintaining an old church make new buyers difficult to come by.
“It’s just like any other big church in a lot of upstate cities, I think,” said King. “There used to be a lot of people who lived in the cities who had some money and went to church, and now they’re vacant and everybody just walks away from them.”
Another abandoned church, the former First Baptist Church on South Main Street, was demolished by the city in 2011 at a cost of nearly $500,000, most of which was covered by a Restore New York grant. The last congregation met there in 1998.
“It’s just a sign of the times, unfortunately,” said King.
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