Feb. 13, 2008: It can happen


To The Editor:
Does any one remember that the right to hold private property is still considered a basic right in our society? Generally, as long as you don’t pollute the environment, bother or annoy anyone or your neighbors, and comply with local laws you’re supposed to be able to do just about anything you want to your property, within reason. You may plan to work on your property while minding your own business, paying your taxes, and enjoying your days. All the time thinking that (in this country anyway) no power on earth can bother you.
No power, that is, except the “government.” No matter how long you have been living there or how much money you’ve invested, if the “government” wants your property bad enough they can force it from you simply by claiming a “public use or benefit.”
This, friends and neighbors is called the power of Eminent Domain otherwise known as “condemnation.” In recent years condemnation has been used and permitted for purposes that are practically endless. If you close your eyes and try hard enough, just about anything might have a “public use or benefit.” However, one important thing to remember is not to confuse a “public use or benefit” with the question of whether the use is a wise one, a correct one, practical, fair or even essential.
The government also wants you to think the rights of property owners are growing in importance and under our present federal and state constitutions when property is “condemned” the owner must be paid “just compensation” and of course the taking must be done following due process of law. This may sound fair to the average person reading this letter, however one must first understand the definition of “just compensation,” how it is calculated, and by whom.
Unfortunately what you won’t get without putting up an expensive fight is true compensation. And, don’t forget the average person may not have the resources to force the government into paying you true compensation and will have to accept “just compensation.” It costs a small fortune to fight a governmental body to receive “true compensation”and of course we’re all too busy just paying our taxes (which by the way is how they pay their attorneys). This is how you are “forced” into accepting whatever it is the government will offer you. And guess what folks, they know that. In fact, we all know that. That’s why few people can or will fight an eminent domain proceeding and it doesn’t really matter if the taking is truly needed, let alone a correct one, people just accept it.
The good news is, there are individuals out there (besides us) who can and will use every legal instrument or device available to defend themselves from this governmental abuse no matter the cost. That is why I commend and support Lauren Davis for standing up to the Village of Margaretville on all fronts. I have spoken with Mr. Davis and find him to be a reasonable and intelligent man who is capable of compromise but simply will not tolerate nonsense and governmental abuse under any circumstances. Neither will we.
Our situation with the Village of Fleischmanns is strikingly similar to Mr. Davis’ situation. The Village of Fleischmanns claimed adverse possession of our family property about 10 years ago and has tried every legal tactic (thus far) in avoiding proving their “possession.” They subsequently used eminent domain to install a sewer line through our property condemning a 30 by 150-foot sub-surface easement; however we were never properly notified or offered any compensation. They did this after claiming adverse possession of our property. To avoid proving their adverse possession claim in court, they are attempting to use eminent domain again condemning a 30 by 150 foot surface easement. All of this is to widen a private road serving and running through our property that was approximately eight feet wide. To add insult to injury, what they have recently offered us as compensation based on their “appraisal” for some of the most important features of our property could only be described as ridiculous.
The position taken by the villages in either of these two situations may be motivated by reasons other than a true, necessary or correct, public use. This is certainly the situation in our case. The indifference and defiance we’ve experienced from the Village of Fleischmanns administration started with previous Mayor Kearney, Deputy Mayor Malcolm Becker and is continuing with Mayor Kathy Wilbur, and all board members. These village officials have never endeavored to discuss this issue even after hearing the pleadings of our attorney and us at “their” public meeting.
As a result, when this situation is finally resolved, at the expense of the taxpayers, the animosity and hatred these officials have created in our hearts will be their legacy. Anyone who advocates taking someone’s property through eminent domain instead of open and honest discussion, careful planning, fair negotiation, and review should rethink their position very carefully. Remember readers, this can happen to you.

Achilles Stefanis,