Why NY property auctions have stopped

February 11, 2011 8:21:29 PM PST
Cash-strapped New York has been raising money auctioning off cars, office furniture and equipment it no longer uses.

The big money is in real estate, but an Eyewitness News investigation found property auctions have stopped in part because the state has yet to inventory the hundreds of empty buildings they own that could be worth billions.

In the last 8 months, New York has sold more than 3-thousand surplus state cars at auctions.

The high-mileage vehicles no longer of use to state agencies have brought in $5 million dollars to a cash-strapped Albany and provided cheap transportation for many.

New York has even taken to selling its surplus on e-Bay: Computer equipment, street signs, desk chairs, scrap metal and cement blocks.

What used to be hauled away at a cost is now bringing in more than a million dollars a year.

"Everything sells on e-Bay. Someone bids 10 dollars for a desk. That's saving the state money by not having to hire somebody to remove it," Terry Flynn of the NY Office of General Services.

But the big bucks in surplus are in real estate auctions. The state recently sold an unused property in Long Island for nearly $6-million dollars. An armory in Rochester added nearly $2 million to state coffers. These sales are, however, rare with none scheduled in the foreseeable future, even though the state owns hundreds of vacant buildings such as a former youth facility and a near-vacant prime piece of real-estate in Manhattan.

The problem as we've learned is that the state has no clue about how many vacant and under-utilized buildings it has. After weeks of phone calls, the Governor's Budget Office told us there simply is no list. The state has hired a real estate consulting firm to come up with a list at a cost to taxpayers of more than a million dollars.

Compare that to Connecticut, which did not spend a dime to inventory all its vacant properties. The sale of a former treatment center to a condo developer has brought in $8-million dollars to Connecticut, and there's more to be sold.

Governor Patterson had big Plans for the sale of vacant state property. Old press releases emphasized that there are "many vacant, under-utilized properties" and selling them is ''win-win for everyone." Yet, few have been sold in part because no one knows for sure how much surplus property the state owns, which makes one Long Island lawmaker wondering why.

"They're surplus, so if we don't need them, why should we have them? And if we can generate revenue and get those properties into the private sector and stimulate economic development, then shame on us if we don't do it," New York State Sen. John Flanagan said.

A spokesman for the Budget Office says the hired real estate consulting firm will not only help inventory surplus state buildings, but determine when is the best time to sell them in light of the weak economy.

If you have a tip about this or any other issue you'd like investigated, please give our tipline a call at 877-TIP-NEWS. You may also e-mail us at the.investigators@abc.com and follow Jim Hoffer on Twitter at twitter.com/nycinvestigates

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