Meadville Tribune

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July 3, 2014

County vote on Conneaut Lake Park sale hinges on back payments

MEADVILLE — Crawford County commissioners won’t vote on joining a possible sheriff’s sale of Conneaut Lake Park until they know what will happen to more than $200,000 the park owes to the county.

The beleaguered amusement park owes Conneaut School District, Crawford County and the townships of Summit and Sadsbury a combined $917,874.87 in back property taxes, interest and penalties dating back to 1997, according to the Crawford County Treasurer’s Office.

Conneaut’s school board and the supervisors of Summit and Sadsbury townships all voted at their respective May meetings to support a sheriff’s sale of Conneaut Lake Park to satisfy the tax bill.

However, as of Thursday, neither the school board nor two townships had filed a foreclosure action against Conneaut Lake Park to commence a sheriff’s sale, according to the Crawford County Prothonotary’s Office, which handles county civil court proceedings.

At Thursday’s commissioners meeting, the board told a crowd of more than three dozen Conneaut Lake Park supporters that no action will be taken until the board has answers on what happens if the county joins the other governments in a sheriff’s sale; or what happens if the county doesn’t join in a sheriff’s sale and instead supports a proposed revitalization plan for the park.

“If we accept the plan instead of going to a sheriff’s sale, is the county going to be out about a quarter million dollars if it goes to sheriff’s sale? That’s my biggest concern,” Chairman Francis Weiderspahn Jr. said following Thursday’s commissioners meeting. “If we have the opportunity (to recover the tax money) and don’t pursue it, that goes against what we’re supposed to be doing.”

With a recent change in state law, any of the four taxing bodies could pursue a sheriff’s sale, but Weiderspahn said the county doesn’t have an answer yet on what happens to the county’s portion of the taxes if the county’s not a party to the suit.

“Are we out of luck because we weren’t part of it or do we still get it?” Weiderspahn asked. “We don’t know at this point.”

Also, since the park is held as a public trust, the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General may have to be involved, Weiderspahn said.

“Will it step in and stop a sheriff’s sale?” Weiderspahn asked. “We don’t know.”

Once answers to the board’s questions are received from attorneys, Weiderspahn said the earliest a vote could be taken would be the board’s July 17 meeting.

Meanwhile, supporters of Conneaut Lake Park said they intend to talk to the Sadsbury Township supervisors and Conneaut School Board, both of whom meet next week.

Leonard Adams, the rides manager for Conneaut Lake Park who led park supporters at Thursday’s commissioners meeting, told the Tribune he plans to attend the Sadsbury Township board of supervisors meeting Tuesday at 1 p.m. and the Conneaut School Board in Linesville meeting Wednesday at 7 p.m.

“I’ll go to whatever board meeting there is,” Adams said.

The Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County has proposed a plan to repay the county, school district and two townships within four years by using insurance proceeds and potential property sales at the park as a way to repay the park’s taxes. The EPACC, the county’s lead economic development agency, was named as the administrator of Conneaut Lake Park on June 17 by the new Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, the nonprofit public corporation that owns the amusement park.

Conneaut Lake Park owes $631,375.56 to Conneaut School District; $230,806.66 to the county (which includes $18,547.97 in costs associated with the county tax claim bureau); $43,571.74 to Summit Township; and $12,120.91 to Sadsbury Township, according to the Treasurer’s Office.

County commissioners are on record that Conneaut Lake Park would sold for back taxes at the annual tax upset sale on Sept. 26 unless the county received an acceptable plan to repay the overdue taxes. The possibility of a sheriff’s sale also remains an option, commissioners have said.

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