GLOVERSVILLE — In an effort to help a private developer rehabilitate the deteriorating former David & Helen Getman Memorial Home, the Gloversville Common Council Tuesday night voted 5-0 to waive $32,695 worth of unpaid city property taxes and penalty fees accrued by the property’s nonprofit owner since the former retirement home shut down in 2017.
Prior to Tuesday night, the city government had been approached by the prospective developer for the project, FMCC’s Men’s Basketball Coach E.J. Gallup, and the real estate brokerage firm Howard Hanna, represented by former Mayor Dayton King, which are trying to close the sale of the old retirement home at 15 E. State St., from its current owner the “David & Helen Getman Memorial Home C/O Icc Management & Consulting Corp.”
King, in an email sent to Mayor Vincent DeSantis and council members, explained that Gallup has a contract to purchase the property, but had been unaware of the $54,000 worth of unpaid city, Gloversville Enlarged School District and Fulton County property taxes attached as a lien to the parcel. King indicated the back taxes could make Gallup’s rehab project unfeasible, forcing him to abandon it.
“We’re asking that the City forgive all, or some, of the back taxes and give us a final number to pay for this transaction to be completed and this project to start,” King wrote. “As you know, Gloversville has had several buildings [church on Main Street being the most expensive] that it has had to demolish because the owner wouldn’t step up to take care of it, and no one else was interested.”
DeSantis said the former David & Helen Getman Memorial Home built up the $54,000 worth of unpaid property taxes, with $32,695 owed to the city and the rest owed to the school district and county, over the five-year-period after the entity’s board of directors received approval from the New York state Dept. of Health to cease operations as an adult retirement home on June 15, 2017.
“In 2018, it went on the tax rolls, and all of these taxes have built up since then, because they weren’t eligible to be a nonprofit unless the property was being used for a nonprofit purpose,” DeSantis said.
Another factor in the large tax lien against the property is an $8,000 water bill, which DeSantis said was likely caused by a leak on the property. DeSantis said the city government paid the water bill to the independently elected Gloversville Water Board, and then re-levied the cost onto the parcel’s property tax bill, adding to the accumulating tax lien against the approximately 180-year-old building.
DeSantis told the council on Tuesday night that he supports waiving the city’s portion of the unpaid taxes in order to help Gallup save the Getman home and help it become a productive tax paying parcel.
“It could be the most historic house in Gloversville,” DeSantis said. “It’s an example of Second Empire architecture, built in the middle of the 19th century. It’s like an early Victorian mansion, and it’s probably one of the last examples of that style left in the city.”
DeSantis said he spoke with local author and historian Don Williams, who also previously served for 25 years as the first principal of Kingsboro Elementary School, prior to Tuesday’s meeting and Williams convinced him the structure was worth saving.
“They’ve been trying to sell it for a long time, and finally they had somebody who wanted to restore it,” he said. “[Gallup] is an experienced contractor. I know it’s going to be residential, so that could be an Airbnb, or it could be permanent tenants, or a combination of both.”
On Friday, Williams, who was also a long-time columnist for the Leader-Herald, said he’s currently working on a series of historical research booklets, called the “Adirondack/Mohawk Series” based on the theme of “getting people back to their roots” and the importance of “preserving our roots.” Williams said in his writing for the series he used the former Getman home as an example of a building that needs to be saved.
Williams said the history of 15 E. State St. includes most of the history of Gloversville. He said the parcel was originally used as farmland by “the Steele brothers” after the American Revolution, before glove manufacturing tycoon Daniel Judson first built his home there.
“That’s the building that’s there now, but it burned down in 1898, but it had a strong skeleton to it, and they rebuilt it exactly the way it was,” Williams said. “After Judson passed away, it went into the hands of the Gloversville Business College, which had already been established on Church Street, but they needed a bigger building because the college was expanding, and it was a very well known college; people came from all over the country to attend that Gloversville Business College.”
Judson said after the college closed down, the wealthy Getman family, from Mayfield, purchased the property and turned it into a retirement home “for the elderly ladies of the community.”
“That evolved into what it ended up as, kind of a co-ed adult home,” Williams said.
During the Common Council’s discussion of the resolution to waive the taxes on Tuesday night, 5th Ward Councilman Jay Zarrelli and 2nd Ward Councilman Art Simonds argued in favor of allowing a portion of the property tax bill to remain in place, rather than forgiving all of it.
“I don’t think there’s an issue with releasing some of the debt, but not the entire $32,000,” Zarrelli said.
“What amount do you think is a good amount?” First Ward Councilwoman Marcia Weiss asked.
Zarrelli said he thought leaving a $10,000 portion of the bill in place might be the most prudent course.
DeSantis defended the resolution to waive all of the taxes.
“I can understand somebody changing their mind, but I did speak to each and every one of you and I got the feedback, from each and every one of you, knowing what the amount was, everybody was in favor of it,” DeSantis said.
“You did, you did,” Zarrelli said, but then Simonds entered the debate and said he had never committed to completely waiving all of the property taxes.
Simonds said he wanted the city to do a building inspection and provide the council with a report about the interior of the structure.
“I haven’t been in that building, I haven’t a clue what it’s all about, and I think we should have some discussion about the amount of money that we want to forgive, because this lends itself to the possibility of us having to do that for everybody,” Simonds said. “Once we start a precedent of doing that, on a regular basis, that’s what we’re going to end up doing.”
Third Ward Councilwoman Betsy Batchelor, who sponsored the resolution to waive the taxes, resisted calls by Zarrelli and Simonds to table the issue.
“I’d like to have this resolved now, because that property is disintegrating, and it’s been on the market for years, and nobody has stepped up before, and I think, to assume that we’ll find another bidder, if [Gallup] doesn’t make it, is a false assumption to make,” she said.
Gloversville Fire Chief Tom Groff said that while he and City Building Inspector David Fox were unable to get into the building, they were able to see from the outside that the structure has suffered moisture damage and that a portion of its roof is now covered by a tarp.
“It hasn’t been in operation for awhile,” Groff said of the condition of the building.
Weiss argued leaving the taxes in place will just eventually lead to the property’s foreclosure.
“My concern is, if we don’t do this, we’re probably going to end up with [the parcel owned by the city, with the] Property Disposition Committee [tasked with selling it],” argued Weiss. “If that happens, and if we end up buying it from the county, we’ll end up paying a lot of money for it, and then we’re going to have to try to sell it, and that’s going to be tough.”
Sixth Ward Councilman Wrandy Siarkowski said he thinks the city will come out ahead in the long run by supporting Gallup’s efforts.
DeSantis said he has discussed the unpaid school taxes on the property with GESD Superintendent David Halloran, who told him the school board will need to research the issue to determine if it has the legal authority to agree to waive the back taxes.
Ultimately Groff’s report to the council and the arguments of Batchelor, Weiss, Siarkowski and DeSantis swayed Zarrelli and Simonds and the final vote was 5-0 in favor of waiving the taxes. Both Councilman-at-large Wayne Peters and 4th Ward Councilwoman Ellen Anadio were absent from the meeting, which DeSantis said was due to illness.
On Friday, Don Williams said the Common Council’s decision to waive the taxes to help support saving the building was the right decision. He explained why he feels saving the old Getman home is symbolic of the need for Gloversville to reaffirm its commitment to a civil society that honors its past.
“It speaks to the whole idea of what’s happening today — we’re fragmenting, we’re breaking up, because people don’t have roots,” Williams said wistfully. “If you don’t have roots, then you don’t have a strong society. People have to get back to appreciating their roots, and what people did to make it possible for us to be here, and to enjoy the standard of living that we have. They’ve found where people have no roots, they become burdens to society, and they, as I say, fragment. They fight with each other. There’s no trust. There’s no appreciation of anything. No respect for people, or buildings, and once you get a society like that; it falls apart. So, there’s a deeper problem here, in my mind.”