JOHNSTOWN – Fulton County supervisors on Monday will take a step toward finding a new business for the vacant commercial building at the county airport. But officials said it’s unlikely the county will change the way it reviews potential tenants, even after the last one left abruptly, owing the county thousands in unpaid bills.
The Board of Supervisors will consider a resolution that will allow the Planning Department to seek requests for proposals – essentially, bids from prospective tenants who will be asked to outline their plans for the site and how much they are willing to pay. The 1,200-square-foot site has been a restaurant and cafe as long as the county has owned it but officials are open to other commercial uses.
The most recent tenant, Grandma Millie’s Bakery, which had roots in Johnstown, moved from Gloversville in 2011 and was open for nearly five years before closing Dec. 31, a day before it was to begin a new one-year lease that would have paid the county $275 a month in rent in 2016.
A month after its closing, the bakery still owes more than $3,000 in unpaid rent, sewer fees, unpaid water bills and late charges, and officials on the supervisors’ Buildings & Grounds Committee were not surprised. The bakery was frequently behind on its rent in recent years, according to county records and Planning Department reports.
But most officials were not aware of a number of financial and legal issues that had been mounting the last three years – issues documented through filings at the Fulton County clerk’s office.
The bakery was sued in State Supreme Court in 2012 over an unpaid $2,000 balance from a First Niagara Bank loan that originated in 2003. The state Department of Labor in 2013 filed a $7,400 tax warrant for nonpayment of unemployment insurance. Bakejoy, a food service company, filed for a $2,622 judgement in 2014 in Monroe County. And the state Department of Taxation and Finance filed five separate warrants between 2013 and 2015 for unpaid taxes.
Officials also were not aware the law firm owned by County Attorney Jason Brott had helped the bakery’s owner, Chauncey McCormick, through a debt repayment plan under Chapter 13 bankruptcy laws from 2010 to 2015, according to federal court records.
Brott did not become county attorney until 2014. He said his only involvement with the bakery at the county level was a standard review of the most recent lease.
Assistant County Attorney Kelly Hoyt is handling the bakery’s unpaid balance and said the county is exploring its options to collect the debt. McCormick said in an email she has reached out to the county attorney’s office to settle the unpaid rent and fees.
Planning Director James Mraz said he did not know McCormick was in bankruptcy proceedings when she submitted her initial bid to open the bakery at the airport. He said there are no background checks or financial disclosures required of applicants, and he did not expect the county to begin any kind of formal review of prospective tenants.
“We’re talking about a relatively small amount of money and a short-term lease,” Mraz said.
Mayfield Supervisor Richard Argotsinger, past chairman of the Finance Committee and one of five supervisors to vote against renewing Grandma Millie’s lease last year, said it may not be worth the county’s time to give a serious review to every potential tenant.
“How much time do you really want to spend on a business that’s only bringing you a couple hundred dollars?” he asked. “But I can see it both ways.”
Rent at the airport site has been as little as $50 a month during the last decade. The next tenant will find newly insulated walls, an interior stripped clean by the previous tenant, and no property taxes.
“I expect a few people will return the RFPs. And I hope we’ll get something there that can stick” said Gloversville 5th Ward Supervisor Greg Young, a member of the Buildings & Grounds Committee that will review the bids in March.