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January 12, 2013

Otsego reps question MOSA appraisal

The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN  — A new appraisal report on the real estate assets owned by the regional trash authority known as MOSA estimates that the agency’s properties are collectively valued at about $6.4 million, a MOSA board member confirmed Friday.

The report has been shrouded in secrecy since it was discussed last month at a MOSA board meeting. The appraisal was completed by a Syracuse-based company, CRA, after Otsego County began its push to break away from the authority known officially as the Montgomery Otsego Schoharie Solid Waste Authority.

Edward Wesnofske of Oneonta, one of eight MOSA board members, confirmed the value given for MOSA’s assets when he was contacted by The Daily Star.

Wesnofske, in response to questions, said the report pegs the value of the so-called southern transfer station in Otsego County, located in the town of Oneonta, at $2.1 million. It estimates the value of the northern transfer station, off state Route 28, just south of Fly Creek, at $730,000.

Some Otsego County government officials say they are concerned that the appraisal overvalues the two transfer stations in Otsego County. If that is the case, they said, the county could end up getting less than its fair share once it officially breaks away from the authority.

Under the original agreement that led to the creation of MOSA, Otsego County has a 40 percent stake in the authority. County officials think Otsego is entitled to 40 percent of the value of MOSA’s assets once its connection with the agency is severed.

Otsego County Rep. James Powers, R-Butternuts, who is also a MOSA board member, said the values given to the two transfer stations in Otsego County are “very high.”

“I think the depreciation rates for what they have are too high and not high enough for ours,”  he said. “If you were going to go out and sell these facilities, the price would be much higher for theirs and much less for ours.”

He said he has asked MOSA to delay further discussion of the appraisal report until February.

“We want to see if we can close the gap to where we can feel comfortable” to settle the dispute expeditiously.

MOSA Executive Director Dennis Heaton and Otsego County Planner Karen Sullivan both refused to release the appraisal report to The Daily Star. Both asked that the newspaper submit a request for the document under the Freedom of Information Law. The FOIL request was sent to four Otsego County officials at midday Friday, but the document had not been produced at the close of business.

According to the draft minutes of the MOSA board meeting in Howes Cave on Dec. 20, MOSA Chairman John Thayer asked that the document be kept under wraps, while Wesnofske urged it be posted on the Internet immediately.

“Chairman Thayer remarked that copies of the appraisal needed to go to all three counties, so that a value could be agreed upon by all four parties,” the draft minutes state.

“He asked that the appraisal not be released to the public until the MOSA board has a chance to look it over and meet again. The next scheduled meeting is January 29th, the annual organizational meeting. Mr. Wesnofske disagreed, suggesting the appraisal go on the MOSA website now.”

Heaton said the board agreed to pay $77,000 to have the appraisal work completed. He noted that all three MOSA board members from Otsego County —  Powers, Wesnofske and former Otsego County Board of Representatives Chairman Sam Dubben — all voted in favor of awarding the contract for the appraisal to CRA.

The appraisal was also the subject of a hastily called meeting of the Otsego County Solid Waste and Environmental Concerns Committee on Thursday. Its chairwoman, Rep. Linda Rowinski, D-Oneonta, and Powers, both said it was held in executive session — meaning the public was not allowed in the room.

“If its MOSA’s intent to approve or disapprove, we’d like to ask them to slow down a little bit,” Rowinski told The Star. “At first glance, we think those numbers (the values given to the two Otsego County transfer stations) are inflated. It’s hard to say where they came up with their figures. We have an obligation not to give away too many of our assets.”

Rowinski said Otsego County officials acquired the document from Powers, who obtained it in his capacity as a MOSA board member.

Otsego County officials, after conferring with the county’s consultant on waste disposal, Hans Arnold, have decided they want to create a public-private partnership to oversee trash management within the county once it breaks ties with MOSA.

Heaton maintained that MOSA has become far more efficient than it was a few years ago, and that Otsego County will end up seeing its costs for trash management increase if it ends its ties with the authority.

“If it turns out to be anything like the recycling program they have now, it will definitely cost them more,” Heaton said.

Wesnofske, though, said Otsego is making a wise choice by pulling out of MOSA.

“MOSA became a crippled organization that was not capable of meeting its future challenges for solid waste and doing it in an economical way,” he said. “The market has changed over 20 years, and what was once a common waste shed has now become a divided waste shed, with the development of more infrastructure in the Capital Region.”