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Lawmaker questions propriety of Genesee County worker’s land purchase

BATAVIA – A Genesee County lawmaker Wednesday night called into question a county employee’s purchase of a small parcel of land at an auction of county-owned property earlier this month.

Legislator Edward DeJaneiro Jr., speaking at the board’s regular meeting in the Old Court House, asked County Attorney Charles Zambito if there was a written policy prohibiting this type of transaction by county employees in light of Assistant County Manager L. Matthew Landers’ purchase of a lot in the town of Elba.

The auction, conducted by Bontrager Real Estate and Auction Services, took place on March 14 in the town of Batavia, About 20 parcels were sold at the auction, generating more than $300,000 in income for the county – based on the total sales minus outstanding taxes.

“I ask this because I didn’t want county employees or us (the legislature) to be accused of impropriety,” DeJaneiro said. “People could think that we could have prior knowledge or be privy to more than the average citizen.”

Zambito said he looked into the matter and was not aware of any county policy to exclude county employees from participating in county auctions. He said, however, that legislators would be prohibited since they set property taxes and approve foreclosure sales.

For his part, Landers said he went to Zambito for an opinion before the auction.

“He (Zambito) had no concerns but he double-checked anyway,” Landers said. “I asked in general if it would be OK to make sure there was no conflict. I had no ability to impact the sale and no insider information.”

Landers said he paid $7,000 for the property, which includes an old house in need of much repair.

“I paid $7,000 and it was assessed for $5,000. It was one of only two properties that sold for more than the assessed value.”

Legislators Marianne Clattenburg, Frank Ferrando and Rochelle Stein said that they had no problem with the transaction.

“Unless there is a clear conflict of interest, county employees have rights as any other citizen,” Ferrando said.

In other developments, the legislature:

• Passed a resolution opposing a budget proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to convert the school tax relief real property tax exemption to a personal income tax credit with the belief that such a move would result in the denial of a STAR exemption to approximately 500 county homeowners. The resolution is to be forwarded to the governor’s office and to the state Senate and Assembly.

• Approved the purchase of two pieces of equipment for the highway department – a $28,000 20-foot flatbed truck body from Cyncon Equipment Inc. of Rush and a $41,000 mobile hydraulic lift from Rotary Life of Madison, Ind.

• Accepted a Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness grant for $6,870 from the New York State Emergency Management Office to implement emergency plans.