April 23, 2010


Legislators at impasse on foreclosures

Chairman breaks tie vote, deciding against hiring Rochester law firm to oversee process

Staff Reporter

Cortland County legislators were split Thursday on a decision to hire a Rochester law firm to administer county tax sale foreclosure proceedings.
Legislature Chairman Jack Williams (D-8th Ward) cast the deciding vote against renewing a contract with the firm Phillips Lytle, citing a need for more information about the benefits of contracting with the firm.
The vote was 10-9.
Williams said he might bring the resolution back for a vote again once he has more information.
The county hired Phillips Lytle last year to handle the county’s 2008 property foreclosure proceedings.
The resolution called for the firm to handle the county’s 2009 proceedings this year.
The contract does not cost the county since the services are paid through a $300 fee assessed to the delinquent tax payer if they redeem or charged to the buyer when the property goes to auction.
County Attorney Ed Purser is in favor of doing the foreclosure proceedings in house while County Treasurer Pat O’Mara and Deputy Treasurer Carolyn Kennedy favor hiring Phillips Lytle.
Williams added that he will meet with personnel in the Treasurer’s and County Attorney’s offices to better understand both sides.
It was at the urging of the County Treasurer’s Office that in April 2009 the county contracted with Lytle to handle property foreclosure proceedings for one year.
O’Mara said at Thursday’s legislative session that contracting with Phillips Lytle ensures that foreclosed properties go to auction in a timely manner, making sure the county gets them back on the tax rolls. He cited the fact there is no expense to the county to hire Lytle since the cost is borne by the $300 per parcel charge.
But Purser pointed out that the county could keep this $300 charge itself if it handled the proceedings in house. The county would have to apply to the courts to be allowed to assess the $300 fee, otherwise it could only charge $150 per parcel.
The work Lytle does for the county boils down to title searches, said O’Mara, an in-depth process that involves contacting all parties associated with the property to ensure the properties have been properly foreclosed.
O’Mara and Deputy Treasurer Carolyn Kennedy said their office is not equipped to handle the title search proceedings.
“Phillips Lytle is doing an excellent job. They are professionals. It is better to have them do it within a year than the county within six years,” O’Mara said.
Purser is still working on finalizing the title transfers for 22 properties that were foreclosed on in 2007.
Last year Purser completed foreclosure work on 22 properties dating back to 2005 and 2006, which were sold at auction in November, netting the county approximately $185,550.
This figure does not consider the amount lost on taxes that were not paid during the years the properties were off the tax roles. Considering that loss, the county netted approximately $18,000 from the sales, estimates O’Mara.
Legislators who supported doing the proceedings in house cited the recent staffing restorations to both the County Attorney’s Office and Treasurer’s Office.
In January the Legislature restored a delinquent tax receiver to the Treasurer’s Office and a secretary to the County Attorney’s Office after both O’Mara and Purser pleaded for the positions.
The 2010 budget had cut both positions to save money.
Legislator John Steger (R-Preble and Scott) voted against the contract. Steger said Purser is making good progress on the properties he was left with from 2007 and he is confident that with the restored position in the Treasurer’s Office the work can be done in house.
“We have the staff capable of doing the job as it should be. There were problems in the past but we should go forward,” Steger said.
Legislator John Troy (D-1st Ward) supported the contract.
“The Treasurer’s Office has had problems getting it done in a timely fashion and I didn’t see any detriment to the county (because Phillips Lytle) is not costing the county,” Troy said.


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