By Martha E. Conway
(Georgetown, NY – May 2012) The Georgetown Town Council scheduled a public informational meeting May 1 to answer questions about an application by Resurreccion Dimaculangan, new owner of the Spirit House, for a tax exemption for the property. The meeting, which was sparsely attended, was a precursor to a public hearing scheduled during the board’s regular meeting May 8.
“The public hearing is May 8,” said Supervisor David L. Coye of the May 1 special meeting. “People in the town had questions. Apparently, not that many tonight, but this is the time to ask questions, not at the hearing.”
According to Coye, the state allows the enactment of local laws that provide exemptions on improvements to historic properties; the exemptions are used as incentives for property owners to restore and maintain their structures. He said the exemption must be applied for through the local assessor’s office, is geared toward attracting and retaining local business and applies only to improvements.
“I am requesting that town people have an open mind that allows the exemption,” Dimaculangan said, adding that the structure is not a regular house but a historic structure.
She also insisted the exemption should be for the entire assessed value of the property, such as that granted to schools and churches, not just on the improvements. Dimaculangan said she would like to have the public have a vote in preserving the historic structure, Georgetown’s only one, she said.
Coye said that while it may be the only one on the National Register of Historic Places, there are a number of historic structures in the town.
According to Dimaculangan, the structure needs about $5 million in capital investment to restore it to its former glory; she said she doesn’t have it. She said it is imperative for her to invest the smallest amount of money in the least amount of time and resources to make the Spirit House self-sufficient. She said she would like to accomplish that through government grants and memberships.
“The structure should be able to pay for its maintenance and upkeep,” Dimaculangan said, explaining her goal is to preserve the past and leave room for the future.
Dr. Joscelyn Godwin, historian and professor of music at Colgate University in Hamilton, asked how Dimaculangan planned to position the structure to support itself, if she were considering turning it into a bed and breakfast or other revenue-generating destination spot.
He said if aggressive action wasn’t taken soon to shore up some of the Spirit House’s problem areas, the structure could be permanently compromised.
Dimaculangan said she is using it as her primary residence and that her plan relies on responsible, adaptive use.
“I would not like to be pinned down by a B&B, and it would not be competitive,” she said.
Councilman Matthew Van Heusen, who also serves as code enforcement officer for the town of Lebanon, wasn’t satisfied with the vagueness of Dimaculangan’s described plan.
“As a councilman, you have to give me some kind of plan of action,” Van Heusen said. “You have a week to come up with some kind of written plan because from what I’m hearing tonight the only plan is to clean it up. How can I vote for a resolution when I don’t know what you are going to do?”
Asked repeatedly by several people present if she planned to restore the Spirit House, Dimaculangan responded with a question.
“Which past am I supposed to preserve?” she asked. “Brown’s original design or that with the renovations of Mrs. Cossitt?”
Town Clerk Sarah “Sally” Brush was one of the few attendees May 1.
“I would like to know what she is doing that she’s not going to have to pay the taxes I have to pay,” Brush said. “I’m going to side my house this year, and I know I will pay for it.”
Dimaculangan said she doesn’t ask Public Assistance, Medicaid or HEAP recipients why they are on the system and felt she should not have to explain herself locally, as she had been in contact with the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Coye said whatever improvements Dimaculangan makes to the property will be assessed in 10-perent increments each year until it is at full valuation at the end of 10 years, so she need be prepared for that.
“That is a historic house under New York State code and falls under certain standards,” Van Heusen said. “Even as a historic building, it is an existing structure. If you need a building permit, you have to provide us certain information before you get it.”
Dimaculangan said she wouldn’t abandon the project if she didn’t get local support by way of the exemption.
“It’s a special house because of its history,” she said.
When asked if the taxes were current, Dimaculangan said she had paid them. According to the tax rolls maintained by Brush, who also serves as the town’s tax collector, the taxes due Jan. 30 without penalty were turned over to the Madison County Treasurer’s Office for collection April 30.
The parcel on which the Spirit House is located is valued at $89,700; the three parcels total about $94,700.
The town board unanimously approved Dimaculangan’s request at its May 8 meeting; Councilman Bart Chapin was not in attendance. According to Coye, the board, based on the opinion of its attorney, maintains the exemption only affects the difference of improvements over assessed value.
“The exemption is for restoration and alterations only,” Coye repeated, adding that a five-member historical commission has to be established to oversee the process. “You can’t take the tax base away; that will hurt a community.”
“I disagree,” Dimaculangan said.
The Spirit House is one of three contiguous properties purchased late last year by Dimaculangan.
Georgetown’s equalization rate is at 100 percent.
“The Spirit House has a lot of potential,” Coye said. “When it is at full assessment – and that time will come – the town will benefit when that happens.”
Martha E. Conway is vice president of M3P Media, LLC, and publisher of the Madison County Courier. She can be reached at 315.813.0124 or by emailing email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/marthaeconway or Facebook at facebook.com/meconway.