A former Blenheim town supervisor is charging possible fraud and collusion in the marketing of the vacant Guilford Mills plant.
Robert Mann Jr. names county Treasurer Bill Cherry, Cobleskill Supervisor Leo McAllister and Cobleskill Assessor Alan Danforth as potentially colluding to inflate the plant's assessment to deceive potential buyers.
And Mr. Mann has also asked Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate his charges.
But all three officials flatly deny any collusion or fraud.
Mr. Mann's charges center on a statement in a November 19 Times-Journal story. In it, Mr. Cherry said he never asked Mr. Danforth to lower the Guilford assessment of $4.5 million (it's actually $4.2 million) because a higher number made the plant look more attractive.
Mr. Mann also pointed to a November 26 editorial that states the county kept the assessment artificially high. (This is addressed in a clarification or correction on page 4.)
In his letter to Mr. Schneiderman, Mr. Mann wrote that according to the story and editorial, it appears Mr. Cherry colluded with Mr. Danforth and Mr. McAllister "to overstate the assessed value of Schoharie County owned property for the purpose of deceiving potential purchasers of the property, by making them believe that the property is worth more than it actually is."
Also, Mr. Mann wrote, because the assessment was higher than it might have been, Cobleskill-Richmondville taxpayers and Cobleskill taxpayers paid less in taxes than they should have and residents outside the town and school district unfairly paid more.
The T-J stories, Mr. Mann said in an interview Monday, "gave me the impression the county could have asked" to have the Guilford assessment reduced.
"It's pretty clear it was the county's decision," he added.
But Mr. Danforth, who sets the assessments, said it wasn't the county's decision at all.
"There was no conspiracy. Nobody pressured me to keep the assessment what it is or lower it," he said.
Both Mr. Cherry and Mr. McAllister said they didn't pressure Mr. Danforth to keep the assessment where it is.
"We never even talked about it," Mr. McAllister said.
And, Mr. McAllister added, Mr. Mann could have asked to have the Guilford assessment reduced when he was Blenheim Supervisor and on the county Finance Committee.
"I'm not throwing stones at Bobby, but why didn't he ask to have it reduced in '11, '12 and '13 when he was on the Finance Committee?" Mr. McAllister asked. "Nobody asked for a reduction."
Mr. Mann responded: "I didn't believe we had any ability to affect that. It's a Town of Cobleskill assessor issue.
"In hindsight, I should have raised the issue, put it in the forefront."
As for a reduction, Mr. Danforth believes the $4.2 million assessment is likely accurate.
There are no properties of comparable size and condition nearby, a common method of determining assessments, he added.
"You couldn't build that today for $4 million," Mr. Danforth said. "The concrete, steel, location and acreage make it valuable."
Also, he pointed out, the assessment has been steadily lowered. It was $7.8 million in 2000 and was lowered to $5.8 million when Guilford was sold to Philip Rahaim in 2004.
Mr. Rahaim reportedly stripped the building, Mr. Danforth said, and the assessment was lowered to $4.2 million in 2010.
Mr. Cherry is marketing Guilford to Green Recycling Solutions International, and a completed sale is close.
When negotiations opened months ago, there was no need to ask for the assessment to be reduced, Mr. Cherry said.
Mr. Danforth agreed, adding that once sales talks begin, the assessment is immaterial because a final price is rarely based on the assessment.
"Neither the county nor I exerted influence," Mr. Cherry said. "I just left it [the assessment] alone and tried to sell the thing."
However, he said if the GRSI deal falls through, he would recommend the Board of Supervisors ask Mr. Danforth to lower the assessment.
"If we don't sell it to GRSI, if the county had to face years of protracted vacancy, then we'd ask to reassess it," Mr. Cherry said.
Despite the denials, Mr. Mann will continue to press for answers.
"I just felt someone should weigh in and remedy this for taxpayers," he said.
A letter to the editor from Mr. Mann is on page 4.