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Village painting Sunrise Mall; billing county for the work

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MASSENA - A summer crew from the village of Massena’s Department of Public Works has been working at the former Sunrise Mall after being directed to do so by Mayor James F. Hidy.

“We have summer help that I’ve instructed the DPW superintendent to utilize to help spruce up the business district in the village,” Mr. Hidy said, adding that the village is also repainting its downtown parking spaces and traffic safety markers.

Mr. Hidy said it was his intent to bill the county for the work, since the Sunrise Mall property was taken over by its previous owners after they failed to pay their property taxes.

“This property is currently owned by the county as a foreclosed property, and I have invoiced the county for this particular cleanup project,” Mr. Hidy said, explaining that he work was done without notifying the county. “I just did it.”

County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said she was unaware that the work was being done until she received a bill for it at her office on Thursday.

“I wasn’t aware of it until I received a bill for $3,000,” she said. “The only notice we’ve received on this building was in mid-June that the grass needed to be cut.”

Ms. St. Hilaire said the county would pay to have the grass mowed and weed cuts, but she suggested painting the building is a different story.

“I’m certainly willing to pay someone $20 to mow the grass, but I’m not willing to pay $3,000 to renovate a building without any previous discussion of any problems there,” she said.

Mr. Hidy said the little bit of grass located behind the property isn’t what he’s worried about.

“It’s not the grass I’m worried about. It’s the fact that this building is in the middle of our downtown,” he said.

Ms. St. Hilaire said that while the village is indicating the county owns the property, ownership of the building is currently being debated in the courts.

She explained the county foreclosed on the property in July 2011. Then in October 2011, the building was purchased at the annual tax sale auction by someone who told the building’s tenants to continue mailing their rent checks to the building’s previous owner.

“We notified him in November that we were not going to honor the sale,” Ms. St. Hilaire said, referring to Shakil Ahmad, who purchased the building at auction, but was allegedly an associate of the previous owner.

Ms. St. Hilaire said the county was notified in February 2012 that Mr. Ahmad was taking them to court.

“We can’t do anything with the building until that is settled,” Ms. St. Hilaire said. “While I haven’t had this discussion with the legislature, I’m certain they would feel the same way.”

Mr. Hidy said it’s unfortunate county officials are saying they won’t pay the bill.

“It’s a building that is in the middle of Massena’s downtown that is in foreclosure and owned by the county. They should bear some of the costs of helping to beautify Massena,” he said, adding it’s not just properties in Massena that the county should help maintain.

“Even though the building is in foreclosure, the county should share in the responsibility of helping to keep the properties aesthetically pleasing to the eyes regardless of what municipality they’re in.”

Mr. Hidy said the Sunrise Mall isn’t the only eyesore owned by the county in the village, referring to an abandoned convenience store on Willow Street.

“For years the village has maintained that,” he said. “They’ve skirted their responsibility on that property and yet they can’t help in the beautification of Massena.”

Among the reasons given by Mr. Hidy for painting the property was an effort to “spruce up” downtown before the arrival of thousands of tourists associated with the upcoming Bassmasters Elite tournament in Waddington.

“One of the major eyesores in the village is the Sunrise Mall. Due to the upcoming Bassmasters Elite Tournament, Massena will be visited by many newcomers to the area,” he said. “That is why I’ve asked that the old signs be taken down from the building and the front facia be painted.”

Mr. Hidy also said the project was keeping in line with other downtown revitalization efforts.

“We have a number of people who volunteer their efforts into keeping Massena aesthetically appealing. Among them are the Downtown Beautification Committee, who plant flowers and maintain our gardens, Cheeta Lazore, and her group that help us with the veteran’s park and the Downtown Redevelopment program,” he said. “Keeping in line with their mission was a reason for me to instruct this building to be painted.”

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