Caroga -- Supervisor James Selmser says the previously planned referendum to sell the former Sherman's Amusement Park is now only 'tentatively' scheduled for Aug. 20 in the wake of a notice of claim filed by the park's former owner.
Selmser said the Town Board has been advised by the Fulton County Board of Elections that it may not be able to "prepare everything needed" for the referendum in time for Aug. 20 date, but then said decisions made by the board during an executive session Wednesday night to discuss pending litigation would also be decisive.
"After tonight's meeting, we'll have a better decision on where we're going to stand, and whether that's really going to happen," Selmser said. "It's a board decision. It's going to depend on what our attorneys advise us."
Selmser said the notice of claim filed by the park's former owner, Gloversville-based attorney George Abdella, could make the results of the referendum mute.
"That's a possibility," he said. "It had been discussed, for probably more than a year, that [Abdella] had these concerns and he was thinking about [a lawsuit]. So, a year has gone by now, but he's more serious now."
Wednesday night town residents packed into the sweaty confines of Town Hall, many of them there to hear the latest in the battle over the fate of Sherman's.
Instead, during the public comment period the Town Board directed a question and answer session between Sheriff Richard Giardino about how to address dangerous speeding on town roads, particularly East Shore Road.
Giardino said his sheriff's patrol only has five-person shifts, which effectively leave him with a supervisor and two road patrol officers covering 500 miles in the county. He said he wishes he could restore the department to the size it was 15 years before he took office, when the Fulton County Sheriff's Department had officers it could dedicate to specific lakes in Caroga, and had more personnel to help mitigate speeding. He said a task force of himself and the Town Board will meet with the state Department of Transportation to come up with solution, which could include speed bumps, or possible automated speeding ticket machines, empowered by a town resolution.
Although there was a strong back and forth on the road safety issue, Giardino made reference to the real reason many of the people had shown up at the meeting.
"Thank God for Sherman's, because you guys show up. I go to some board meetings and, honest to God, you get six people who show up," he quipped, receiving laughter from the crowd.
Others were less amused.
"Can we move on to another topic?" one person asked.
The board took one comment regarding Sherman's and then shut down the public comment session.
Members of the public also wanted to know if there was going to be a referendum on the sale of the property.
On June 12, the board voted 4-1 to sell the 8.6-acre property at routes 10 and 29A for about $50,000, with stipulations, 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, is contingent upon a majority approval vote in a referendum Aug. 20, if it occurs.
On June 28, Abdella filed a notice of claim alleging the town had violated a complex donation agreement he made when he gave the park to the town in 2014.
Abdella alleges in the notice that the town of Caroga is in breach of contract for failing to abide by the conditions of the donation agreement, which among other things, requires the town to never sell the property and to "maintain the property to the highest of standards."
Town officials say they have a release form from Abdella allowing the town to sell Sherman's to the Caroga Arts Collective, but only the collective. Town Board members have stated Abdella does not want the town to sell the property to any other private entity for development.
The claim alleges the town has violated the agreement in six ways:
- Failure to maintain the buildings and grounds
- Allowing the sewer system to deteriorate to the point where it cannot obtain approval from the New York State Department of Health
- Failing to properly groom the landscape of the property
- Failing to maintain the interior of the property
- Failing to repair a waterline Abdella alleges the Town Highway Department damaged prior to his donation
- Failing to maintain the donated part of the beach front, allowing it to become overgrown.
"The value of the donated property was assessed at the time of the transfer at $3.1 million," reads the claim. "Presently the property is worth substantially less than it was at the time of the transfer due to the misfeasance of the [town]."
Selmser said he has no knowledge of whether Caroga is responsible for the damage to the waterline feeding the property that Abdella alleges in his claim.
"The waterline I know has been damaged," he said. "It's debatable who damaged it, and when that happened. It is damaged and it needs to be repaired, and a number of years have gone by. I believe it happened before the title was transferred to the town."
Selmser said he's uncertain whether the town can simply settle the potential suit from Abdella."
"It's up to our attorneys to really clarify what the law says we can do in terms of disposing of town property," he said. "[Settling] would solve some problems, yes, but some other people it would make them very unhappy and it could cause additional legal action against the town, whether that's part of our financial responsibility, how we're handling that. It could be judged maybe that we didn't look at all the options, which has been discussed many times."
Attorney Greg Dunn, who acts as Caroga's town attorney on an "as needed basis" without a formal appointment or salary, said the Town Board probably could settle with Abdella and return to him the amusement park, but that could prompt other litigation."
Scott Horton, who defeated Selmser in the Republican Party primary June 18, said if the Town Board settles the lawsuit with Abdella, "I think you would see an uprising. I think there would be people in the streets."
Horton said if Abdella is complaining that the town hasn't put enough money into the property, the Town Board should rectify that and spend more to fix up the property."
"This lawsuit is a shot across the bow of a sinking ship," Horton said.