PLATTSBURGH — Clinton County legislators rejected a last-ditch effort by one of their colleagues to tweak the rules for accepting late property-tax payments.
Legislator Mark Dame (R-Area 8, City and Town of Plattsburgh) offered a resolution at Wednesday night’s meeting that called for the County Treasurer’s Office to accept late payments on properties that have been foreclosed on for back taxes up until Friday, Aug. 3, five days before the property auction set for Aug. 8.
For the past decade, the county has stopped accepting late payments about three months before the auction. That rule has been challenged several times over the years by taxpayers who have wanted to pay their back taxes (two years’ worth) and penalties right before the auction.
Earlier this year, a judge ruled that the legislature can decide if it wants to accept payments right up until the auction, but the legislators deferred and agreed to let the treasurer continue to have the final say.
The auction had been scheduled for June 6, but it was delayed by Treasurer Joseph Giroux, as the county continued to look into the procedure. He has not changed the policy and will not accept any more payments this year.
“We may change it for next year, but we are still looking into what we can and can’t do legally, and it will not change this year,” he said.
Several people who had property foreclosed on have come forward this year to protest the county’s policy.
One of them is Russell Pray. He said he has the $22,000 to pay in back taxes and penalties on a $200,000 piece of property that is paid for and has been in his family for years.
He told legislators Wednesday night that to take his property and not let him pay would be kicking him while he is down.
“I know I messed up, but not to this amount where I am getting beat up like this,” he said.
Dame said the county’s policy is too rigid and did not take into consideration many unforeseen circumstances that may cause a taxpayer to miss the payment deadline.
“The responsibility of the legislature is to work and serve the taxpayer,” he said.
“Not to beat them when they are down.”
Dame said that in some cases the county will be taking property away from people who will have no place to live and will have to apply for Social Services benefits.
“That will cost the county 20 or 30 or 40 times more than what they owe in taxes,” he said.
“How anybody can justify this is beyond me.”
Brian DuFault of Schuyler Falls said Dame is right — he and his three children will have to apply for Social Services benefits if they lose their home.
“As far as I am concerned, the county is guilty of child abuse for putting my kids out on the street,” he told the Press-Republican.
DuFault owes about $4,000 on a property that has been in the family since 1970. He said he did not get the tax bill because it was sent to the wrong address.
“I have the means to pay the taxes, but now I don’t know what is going to happen,” he said.
‘NOT JUST ARBITRARY’
Legislator Sara Rowden (D-Area 4, Town of Plattsburgh) said that not supporting Dame’s resolution would imply that the legislature is not a compassionate body.
“I like to think of myself as a very compassionate person,” she said.
Rowden added that 99 percent of the county’s property owners pay their taxes on time, and often under difficult circumstances. She also noted that the county offers taxpayers different ways to deal with payment issues.
“We’ve gone out of our way to help people, and these rules are not just arbitrary. They are well thought out, and they have worked,” she said.
“I understand that it is not easy and it impacts lives, but everything we do impacts lives.”
Dame’s resolution failed by a 7 to 2 count, with Legislators Harry McManus (D-Area 1, Champlain), Jonathan Beach (R-Area 2, Altona), Rowden, Pete Keenan (D-Area 5, Peru), Robert Butler (R-Area 6, Saranac), Robert Heins (R-Area 10, City of Plattsburgh) and Chairman Jimmy Langley (R-Area 7, Peru) voting against it.
Sam Dyer (D-Area 3, Beekmantown) voted in favor of Dame’s resolution. John Gallagher (D-Area 9, City of Plattsburgh) was absent.
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