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County wants to tighten foreclosure process

SCHUYLER COUNTY—At a meeting last week, the county legislature reviewed a draft resolution that would clarify a tax foreclosure process the county attorney characterized as “too taxpayer friendly.”
According to law, the county has the right to foreclose on properties whose owners have not paid real estate taxes. Typically, the tax foreclosure process begins after two years of tax delinquency, with the county acting to dispose of the property usually after three years.
County treasurer Margaret Starbuck says that owners receive a letter each year taxes are not paid.
In addition, the county publishes a list of delinquent tax payers annually in The REVIEW&EXPRESS around the first of November. This actually begins the tax foreclosure process, and owners have 90 days from the date of the public notice to redeem their property by paying the outstanding amount.
After that, it’s up to the county to decide whether they want to accept a buyback offer from the owner.
In the past, however, the county had allowed many owners to purchase back their properties until 5 p.m. the Friday before a scheduled tax foreclosure auction.
County attorney James Coleman explained that this process had been implemented in 1996 to allow as many properties as possible to be returned to their owners and the tax rolls.
Compared with other local jurisdictions, Coleman called Schuyler County’s approach “the most taxpayer-friendly buyback policy that we’re aware of.”
However, he said that the process had not been applied consistently, and had created confusion which led to legal actions against the county.
A recent case involved the historic Montour House, which is currently being developed with Restore NY grant money. The county sold that property to the village of Montour Falls after its previous owner, Ed Solomon, thought he had an accepted redemption offer.
Solomon tried unsuccessfully to get back the property and stop the sale. There is one appeal still outstanding.
“We have to make a little adjustment to how friendly we are to avoid situations like [Ed] Solomon’s,” Coleman told the board.
The proposed resolution states that the county will entertain owners redemption offers only until the Friday two weeks before a tax auction date.
Coleman said this would avoid last-minute offers and give the county more administrative flexibility.
“We’d like to make a small administrative change, not a policy change,” he said.
During the discussion of the wording of the resolution, board members were concerned that the process is clear to avoid any more confusion for taxpayers. They asked Coleman to make some changes and additions to the resolution, which they will review again before voting on it at a regular legislature meeting. They also asked to see copies of the letters property owner receive.
The county had planned a real estate auction for Nov. 15 but decided at the meeting to cancel it because only one property had not been redeemed or didn’t have a redemption offer before the board.

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