The First Baptist Church is finally gone, and grass is already growing on the vacant lot where it stood.
As residents get used to looking up South Main Street and not seeing the massive church steeple, the city is tying up loose ends involving back taxes and conveying title — first to itself and then to Susan and John Casey, owners of the adjoining property.
The city owes the county about $43,000 in back taxes dating to January 2005. The county, which has foreclosure authority in the city, regularly paid the city taxes owed on the property starting in 2005, when the church was placed back on the tax rolls. The city will now reimburse the county for the total paid in city taxes. City Finance Commissioner Bruce Van Genderen said Wednesday the sum includes taxes the county paid the school district during that period, when the church was first assessed at $150,000 and then — as demolition was planned — only $600.
Van Genderen said reimbursements to the county in similar situations at Twin City Leather, Van Tent Pole and Tradition Leather have totalled about $125,000 in recent years. The alternative, Van Genderen said, is returning foreclosure authority to the city, a step he opposes.
Until five years ago, when the county assumed that role under the so-called “Hornell Plan,” the city was routinely burdened with unpaid taxes of $1.3 million to $1.4 million, Van Genderen said.
“The county lifted a big burden off the city,” he said, asserting that sums being reimbursed for properties removed from the county foreclosure list are relatively small compared to the unpaid tax totals once the norm.
As a provision that settled a lawsuit filed by the Caseys against the city this year during the demolition, the couple will buy the church lot from the city for $3,000.
To accomplish that transfer, the city will have to try for a second time to have the land conveyed from the church corporation to the city. A first attempt at the transfer was in error, officials said. Few representatives of the church, which closed in 1998, are still alive, city officials said.
Susan Casey said the demolition company plans to remove its chain link fence after a second cutting of the new lawn. At that juncture, she will erect her own fence. She is still contemplating options for the property and will probably leave it green for some time.
The city obtained a $434,000 Restore New York grant to pay for much of the demolition. Stamford Demolition of Trumbull, Conn., won the bidding with a proposal for $499,400. The grants makes an additional $100,000 available to help finance a project on the lot.