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County Weighs Options For Scheduling Auctions

Chautauqua County is trying to decide what to do about property owners who have not paid their taxes for the last three years, and who otherwise would have had their properties go to auction.

During the legislature’s Audit and Control Committee meeting, Todd Button, deputy director of finance, noted that the county didn’t hold a tax auction in 2020 because of the pandemic. He doesn’t know how soon one can take place.

The 2020 auction would have covered delinquent properties that date back to 2018. Button noted that now is normally when they would start notifying property owners of delinquent properties for 2019 but that process hasn’t started yet.

“Because we have not achieved a foreclosure date for the ’18, we can’t even begin to proceed with our ’19 foreclosure process because our system will not handle that,” he said.

Currently there are 389 parcels that have taxes owed for 2018.

Last year, the county legislature delayed taking action on 2018 properties until April 15 of this year. Button said the state has delayed evictions until May 1 of this year, so he believes the county should mirror the state’s date. He did note that President Biden has talked about delaying foreclosure until September, but nothing is official.

“I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to think that the state probably will go right along with that until we have some success with vaccinations and some economic relief,” he said.

For now, committee members recommended delaying the April 15 date for foreclosure on properties until May 1 and then look into delaying that further if the state does delay evictions.

Button also said the other issue is if the county wants to auction off 2018 properties only or include 2019 properties this year. No decision was made on that.

Legislator Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan, said perhaps the county could look into auctioning off properties that aren’t occupied. “If there’s any way that we can auction off some of these properties, I think the sooner we can, the better,” he said.

“The longer these properties just sit vacant, the more they’re going to deteriorate and the less the county’s going to realize as far as sales at the auction.”

Committee Chairman Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown, said he wants to contact property owners to let them know they’re still responsible for the taxes, even if the auctions are delayed. “We’re not forgiving the taxes. We’re not forgoing the interest. This is just a delay,” he said.

Whenever an auction is permitted to take place, Button said one option is to have it virtually. “We’ve always done in person auctions. We have had preliminary discussions about doing an on line auction with Auctions International,” he said.

Kitty Crow, county finance director, said she recommends hearing from other counties that have done that. “I think potentially there are some advantages. There might be disadvantages too, but there could be advantages too, of having on line auctions,” she said.

Attorney Stephen Abdella shared some of the concerns of holding an auction virtually. “If you have an on line auction you are increasing the likelihood of interested buyers from out of town – some distance out of town – who are simply just speculating. … A purchaser may not really be a responsible purchaser and they’re just speculating and may simply abandon the property after some period of time,” he said. “That has been something experienced in other places in New York state. Maybe it’s more with the larger cities but that is a concern that has been expressed.”

Nazzaro said they will continue to discuss the issue next month.

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