Sheridan resident to keep home

OBSERVER Photo by Mary Heyl County Legislator Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan, is advocating for a local man in danger of losing his home on Route 20 in Sheridan.

SHERIDAN — Just six weeks ago, Sheridan resident David Blodgett along with his teenage son were facing homelessness after their home was sold at the county tax auction due to unpaid taxes. Blodgett, who manages significant mental health problems, overcame numerous challenges including joblessness and lack of a motor vehicle to try to save his home, and reached out to his Chautauqua County Legislator, Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan, for help.

However, it seemed to be a lost cause after the July 25 county legislature meeting, when 13 legislators voted down Niebel’s motion to exempt Blodgett’s home from the sale, despite his ability to pay the back taxes in full and show steady employment. The day after that meeting, County Executive George Borrello got on the phone with some key players involved to find a solution for Niebel’s constituent who, as Borrello put it, “unfortunately fell through the cracks.”

According to family and friends of Blodgett, the 56-year-old man suffers from severe bipolar depression and his son, Jackson, faces dual disorders of epilepsy and Asperger’s syndrome. Blodgett and his former wife, Mary Grace Syracuse, attended the July 25 county legislature meeting to share the situation. Syracuse explained that Blodgett owned his home for 30 years and “religiously paid the taxes” until he lost a job he had held for 15 years. “One remark (at work) eliminated his job, his income, his 401K,” Syracuse said. Due to his manic state, she said that it took a long time for him to seek and receive psychiatric help. In the meantime, his finances suffered significant damage.

Now, however, Blodgett has been under the care of psychiatrists and clinicians in Dunkirk and has a steady job that he bikes to starting at 4 a.m. every day. Syracuse explained that Blodgett could now pay the back taxes, which totaled $16,205.35, and brought bank statements to the meeting as proof. Blodgett, himself, addressed and apologized to the legislature, who, with the exception of John Davis, R-Frewsburg; Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan; Daniel Pavlock, R-Sinclairville, Elisabeth Rankin, R-Jamestown; and Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia, voted down Niebel’s motion to amend the quit claim deed resolution to exempt Blodgett’s home.

After the meeting, Borrello arranged to meet with Ernest Laemmerhirt, who bought Blodgett’s home at the county tax auction for $15,000. “I explained Blodgett’s situation to him and let him know about the mental health issues that this man was facing, and that he’d gotten a lot of assistance to get back on his feet,” Borrello explained.

“Fortunately, an agreement was able to be reached for Blodgett to buy his house back. I really give Mr. Laemmerhirt a lot of credit. Buying and re-selling homes is his sole business. It’s how he makes his living — not just something he does on the side. In a true act of generosity, he took a lot less for the house than he would have gotten if he’d fixed it up and sold it.”

Others involved in the situation extended their generosity, as well. Borrello commended Niebel for fighting for his constituent and bringing the matter to the legislature’s attention. Borrello also credited Fredonia attorney Daryl Brautigam for waiving his fees and Laemmerhirt’s attorney, John C. Grennell of Angola, for working at a significantly reduced rate to restore ownership of the home to Blodgett. Borrello pointed out, “The legislature and the tax department definitely followed all the rules. But this was really about people helping people, not about changing any rules or making exceptions. I’m really happy to be part of the solution. This was a group effort, and everyone’s heart was in the right place.”

Niebel said he is very pleased with the outcome of what seemed to be a hopeless situation. “I’m delighted; the family is delighted — it’s great news. I want to publicly thank County Executive Borrello for everything he did to bring about a resolution,” Niebel stated.