County considers public shaming of tax scofflaws

HUDSON–Columbia County has a mounting crisis in uncollected property taxes and the Financial Review Committee of the Board of Supervisors, chaired by Richard Keaveney (R-Canaan), met March 28 to consider options for resolving it.

Many of the delinquencies exist on properties where there is no mortgage, and therefore no escrow account to collect the money, suggesting that many of those in arrears who are skirting payments may not necessarily be doing so out of financial need.

Proposed solutions include:

Increasing penalties for delinquencies

Initiating a multi-year tax foreclosure on taxes due for 2009-2012

Structuring an amnesty program to waive penalties and interest in return for prompt payments (Assistant County Attorney Andrew Howard will investigate the legalities)

Publishing in local newspapers a list of tax scofflaws.

County Treasurer P.J. Keeler noted that while there are some extenuating circumstances, his department is encouraging payment plans. In the interim, the county assesses 12% interest on past-due taxes, an incentive for homeowners to address the issue. He added that currently there are 49 properties in foreclosure, down from 100 in November 2012, when the notices were issued with a 90-day period to cure the delinquency that expired February 11, 2013.

Additional topics discussed include the committee’s plan to meet with Angela Timothy, director of Public Health, to discuss the Certified Home Health Agency. The agency’s operating costs have spiked to approximately $750,000 through 2011 (the last year an audit was performed) even though there is a substantially diminished client base.

Following the meeting, The Budget and Salary Committee heard from department heads on several issues, including from Ms. Timothy on raising sanitation subdivision fees for property inspections where there are two or more lots. The current fee of $300 would increase to a proposed $550 per inspection, thereby ensuring that each property owner pays the same.

Supervisor Art Bassin(D-Ancram) objected to raising these fees, stating that the proposed fees represent a “targeted tax on county residents that flies under the property tax radar… thereby doing residents of the county a disservice.”

Ms. Timothy also proposed allowing for agreements to be signed that will enable the Health Department to host students studying clinical disciplines. The budget-neutral measure encourages those students to seek careers in public health.

In addition, she requested that the county enter into a contract with the state to assume billing services for the early intervention program. County Controller Ron Caponera commented that taking this step could free up county staff. Ms. Timothy will review the extent of the staff savings and report back to the committee.

 

 

 

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