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Legislative candidate address Lewis lawmakers about building concerns

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LOWVILLE — A Lewis County legislative candidate on Tuesday took his concerns about a proposed office building directly to the current board.

“There’s no reason to hurry this building,” said Duane C. DeLair, an Independence Party member and District 8 candidate from Constableville. “It can be started next year.”

Mr. DeLair suggested that only 12 people showed support for the project at a February informational session, despite a Times story indicating the roughly 150-person crowd was more balanced in its opinions.

He also requested that the issue be put to a public referendum, adding that potential constituents and some other legislative candidates are not in favor of the proposed building.

“I haven’t found anybody who wants it,” Mr. DeLair said. “You’d better start asking the people what they want.”

County Attorney Richard J. Graham again said that the project — much like the controversial county courthouse project from several years ago — may not legally be put to a public vote.

Mr. Graham made reference to Article 33.10 of the state Local Finance Law, which states that “neither the expenditure of money for an object or purpose for which it is proposed to issue obligations nor a bond resolution or capital note resolution shall be subject to a mandatory or permissive referendum in any county.” The law does provide some exceptions, but only for Westchester County, any county operating under an alternative or optional form of government and any county borrowing money to hire an appraiser to contest state equalization rates.

Mr. DeLair said his attorney, a Yale University alumnus, suggests it could be done and promised to continue following the progress of the project closely.

Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, on Wednesday said he would be interested to learn exactly how a public vote could be done legally.

“So far, we’ve been told otherwise,” he said.

Legislators voted narrowly in March to go out to bid on a two-story, 45,000-square-foot building on outer Stowe Street.

Detractors balk at the cost, while supporters suggest that putting up a new building would be the best long-term move by eliminating any lease-related constraints, consolidating county offices into a few major complexes rather than scattering them all over the village and using $4.5 million to $5 million in state Department of Social Services funding that would not be available for nonconstruction options.

Legislators — who have been divided on the issue — will wait until after bids are revealed on Sept. 19 before deciding whether to move forward with construction.

“I don’t want to deny anybody the right to make a decision until they determine the true economics of it,” Mr. Tabolt said.

While the cost has been estimated at around $11 million, the choice would be easier if the bids come in either very high or very low, he said.

Lawmakers on Tuesday voted 8-1 to initiate a state Environmental Quality Review process on the project, with Legislator Paul M. Stanford, D-Watson, opposed. The resolution specifies that the board would be lead agency and would consider at its Oct. 1 meeting any environmental impact of the project.

Andrew J. Davis, a Clinton County resident who is suing the county for selling his Osceola camp property at last year’s delinquent tax auction, also addressed legislators Tuesday, asking them to return the property to him.

The 31-year state corrections officer acknowledged that he had been delinquent on his property taxes but said he did not know about the sale until after it was completed, as county notifications apparently were returned as undeliverable.

“I’m asking you to do the right thing,” he said.

Lawmakers discussed the situation in executive session but took no action.

Mr. Tabolt said Wednesday that it is an unfortunate situation but it appears the county followed required procedures under law. However, he didn’t rule out making changes in the law in an attempt to avoid a similar situation in the future.

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