Should Broome County, NY Retain Mineral Rights (Including Gas Rights) on Properties Seized for Back Taxes?

In 2008, Broome County, NY starting retaining the mineral rights of properties it had seized for unpaid taxes and later resold. The policy was implemented before the Marcellus Shale was even thought of in the county. Broome County sits just across the border from Susquehanna County, PA and is squarely in the middle of what some believe to be some of the highest producing parts of the Marcellus Shale, so mineral rights and who owns the gas beneath the land has suddenly become a big deal.

Some county legislators argue that the county’s original move to retain the mineral rights violates personal property rights. Others want to keep this potential pot of gold in county coffers. A vote on the matter is due this week.

The Broome County Legislature may soon have a new answer to a multi-million dollar question: What should the county do with the mineral rights when it seizes a property for unpaid taxes?

A pair of measures slated for a vote at Thursday’s legislative session would reverse the current policy, whereby the county keeps the sub-surface mineral rights for properties over five acres when the land changes hands at tax sale auctions.

Under the policy, the county has retained mineral rights for about 330 acres on 48 parcels of land that have been auctioned off since 2008. The buyers purchased only the surface rights at auction.

"To me this is a fundamental issue where the county government has really overstepped," said Legislator Julie Lewis, R-District 6, who said the severance policy infringes on personal property rights.

The proposed about-face would take place through two resolutions. One would end the practice of severing the mineral rights on large-acreage properties from the surface rights at county auctions.

Under the other resolution, the county would offer to sell back the mineral rights it has obtained under the 48 properties — at the rate of $1,307 per acre — to the landowners who bought the land at county auctions.*

*Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin (Jul 20, 2011) – Broome considers changes to mineral rights policy