CAROGA — The Town Board will hold an emergency meeting at 9 a.m. Monday morning in a last-minute bid to get a referendum authorizing the sale of the former Sherman’s Amusement Park onto the November general election ballot.
Supervisor James Selmser said the Fulton County Board of Elections has informed the town it must approve a resolution authorizing the referendum at least 90 days before the Nov. 5 election in order to get it on the ballot, which makes Monday the last possible day for the board to act.
“Based on our understanding of election laws, we thought this could be done by early September. [Thursday] morning we found out no,” Selmser said. “We will hold the emergency meeting Monday morning, pass that resolution and I will hand-carry that resolution to the county Bboard of Elections on Monday.”
Wednesday night the Town Board voted unanimously to rescind a prior resolution calling for an Aug. 20 referendum on the sale of the former Sherman’s Amusement Park to the Caroga Arts Collective.
Selmser said if the board had known about the tight deadlines it would have also passed a resolution Wednesday night moving the referendum to November.
The Town Board’s plan to hold the Aug. 20 referendum was based on a June 12 resolution, which passed 4-1 with Town Board member John “Jack” Glenn in opposition. The June 12 resolution approved the sale of the 8.6-acre Sherman’s property at the juncture of routes 10 and 29A for about $50,000 to the Caroga Arts Collective, a non-profit group that has hosted musical concerts at the venue for the last several summers.
The resolution authorizing the sale, however, was contingent upon a majority approval by town voters in a referendum. Another stipulation in the sale agreement is that the former owner of the park, Gloversville lawyer George Abdella, will have the right of first refusal for any attempted resale of the property by the CAC.
The fate of the former Sherman’s Amusement Park has sparked great passion in members of the small community. The issue played into the results of the June 25 Republican Party primary in which all of the incumbent Town Board members in favor of selling the property to the CAC, including Selmser, were defeated by challengers.
Selmser will be on the November ballot on an independent party line, where he will again face Scott Horton, who beat him for the Republican Party line.
Selmser said the Aug. 20 referendum date had to be abandoned when the Fulton County Board of Elections decided it did not want to run the special election on that date, which would have cost the county money to pay poll workers plus transport equipment.
Selmser said the county Board of Elections decision to allow the town to run the special election itself, at a cost of between $1,200 and $1,500 under the supervision of Town Clerk Linda Gilbert, proved to be too difficult because the town would have had to set up provisions for people to register for absentee ballots two months in advance. The Town Board didn’t realize until recently about the requirement, forcing the Aug. 20 date to be rescinded Wednesday night.
Selmser said there will still be some cost to the town for creating “a second voting document” for the Nov. 5 election for the referendum, but the Fulton County Board of Elections will run the referendum election as part of the regular general election.
“It’ll cost about 50 cents per ballot document,” Selmser said.
Complicating the Sherman’s debate is the complex donation agreement Abdella signed with the town in 2014 which specified that it not be resold to a private developer.
Abdella supports the sale to the CAC, but filed a notice of claim against the town on June 28 following the June Republican primaries when candidates opposing the sale to the CAC, including Horton, were victorious. If Horton wins again in November will take office in January.
Abdella’s legal action hangs over the referendum and the November general election. Abdella’s notice of claim alleges the town has failed to maintain the property to the specifications of the donation agreement, and he wants it back, plus potentially millions of dollars in damages.
Robert Abdella, George’s son and law firm partner, has told The Daily Gazette it’s his father’s inclination to end the legal action against Caroga if the Town Board sells the property to the CAC with Abdella retaining the right of first refusal if CAC decides to sell. He said his father wants the property to be used for the good of the people of Caroga, and he believes the CAC would fulfill that intention.