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The ‘Notice’ Starts A Sad Process

Every year, about this time, the newspaper publishes a “Legal Notice” from the County with a long list (in small print) of people and entities who have not paid their property taxes. This is a requirement under state law and is the beginning of a process which could lead to the sale at auction of the parcels/properties described.

I always find it a sad day when I see the “Notice.” You never want to see someone lose their home or property in this manner.

There are a lot of reasons why people don’t pay. Sometimes they just forget, sometimes property can be tied up in a business dispute or divorce proceeding, and some people just wait until the very last minute before paying their bills–and this includes their property taxes. But, sometimes, it is because people just don’t have the money or that the property isn’t worth having so they decide to “let it go” for taxes.

There were six pages of small print this year, and, as in other years, the largest number of delinquencies were in our two cities: Dunkirk and Jamestown. Two and a half pages were taken up by city delinquencies or about 40% of the whole. We all know about the financial struggles these cities have, and a lot of it relates to declining property values and old, worn-out housing stock which results in tax delinquency. The one positive (if you can call it that,) is that Dunkirk, Jamestown and the towns and villages don’t have to go through the tax collection and foreclosure process — that obligation falls in the lap of the County. The County pays the back taxes, and then tries to recoup that through a tax foreclosure procedure.

All of this makes for a cumbersome process in government, and, in the end, the taxpayers can get stuck anyway if the County sale of such property yields less than the unpaid back taxes.

What happens if the county ends up owning a house if no one “bids it in?” There used to be a couple of answers to that: (1) the county could later negotiate or take a lower bid than the tax liability; or (2) it might have to demolish a house depending on how bad a shape it was in.

Today, there is another alternative which can help rejuvenate old housing stock — the property can be put into what is called a “Land Bank.” Sometimes this enables a potential buyer in purchasing and restoring a house. It also might enable a non-profit organization, like Habitat for Humanity, come in, take ownership and make needed restoration and repairs. If the County gives property to the Land Bank, County taxpayers eat all of the back taxes.

What the whole issues highlights is that property taxes, especially in a State like New York, are high. They are a major revenue source for both local governments and school districts. When somebody fails to pay them, that underlying cost doesn’t go away. It just gets shifted to everyone else already paying their own property taxes.

It would be better for all of us if there were no tax delinquencies. In the meantime, hope that your name does not appear in this annual “Legal Notice.” There are better ways to get your name in the newspaper.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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