For five years, the Church of the God of Prophecy has been yanking the city of Gloversville's chain over the fate of the former First Methodist Church.
The brunt of the chain-yanking took place in 2011, when church operators stripped the building of perhaps its most valuable asset — its stain-glassed windows — claiming with a straight face they were protecting the glass from vandalism as an act of "historic preservation."
City officials were once told by a Greenville auctioneer that the windows were to be sold off privately. But it turns out they've been sitting in a Kingston warehouse, for how long, no one is saying. No one also apparently knows what happened to the church’s historic clock, also pilfered from the building.
After Church of God gutted the place, the city fined it $60,000 for violating the historic structure without permits. The fines have never been paid. The church also owes $25,000 in back taxes.
Now, with new leadership at the church in place, the owners want to play, "Let's Make a Deal."
After five years of no progress and no settlement of numerous issues related to the church building, city officials should take a hard line.
The first thing that needs to be done is for the stained-glass windows to be returned and reinstalled. No one is going to buy a church with boarded-up windows. And no, the city shouldn't exchange the windows for a reduction in the fines. The fines were for illegally tampering with a historic structure, not to be used later as ransom.
To reduce the fines would send the wrong message to other property owners seeking leverage with the city. And if the clock or any other property ransacked from the building five years ago just happens to be sitting in that warehouse, it all needs to come back as well.
Where the city, county and school district might be flexible is on the overdue taxes.
If reducing the tax burden on the vacant building somewhat helps speed along the church’s revival and reuse, taxpayers will recoup the lost taxes in the long run. The taxing entities should agree to a reasonable repayment schedule to make the transition easier.
The other condition the city must insist on is an aggressive plan for marketing the building for sale or reuse as a business, non-profit organization or even apartments.
Forcing the owners to restore the church and create a plan for its future will ensure the building remains viable for sale and repurposing.
If the building is allowed to continue to sit idle and in disrepair, it's going to eventually fall into such a condition that the city will have no choice but to take it over and charge local taxpayers the price to demolish it.
The Church of God of Prophecy parent organization, with 1.5 million members in 130 countries, apparently has financial resources at its disposal, enough to fulfill its obligations.
And it appears from recent outreach that the new church leaders are interested in resolving this issue once and for all.
But given the history with this building and this organization, city leaders should be cautious and steadfast.
If there's not real progress made in resolving this issue right away, the city should see how much church officials like being yanked around a courtroom.
Enough is enough.