July 17, 2010
County hopes to avoid auction of 4 properties
By CATHERINE WILDE
The Cortland County Legislature will accept late tax payments to redeem four properties that otherwise would go to auction July 31 if County Attorney Ed Purser decides before Thursday’s session that the county can legally do so.
Legislators at Thursday’s Budget and Finance Committee endorsed four resolutions to withdraw the properties from the auction.
Since the deeds have already been turned over to the county, Purser said the county may not be within its rights to turn the deeds back to the former owners, instead of to the highest auction bidder as state law requires, once the county has taken title to the properties.
County officials are also concerned that if the county accepts the payments on these properties, it could be sued by other property owners who were not notified of this option. It is unclear if the county will have to notify all property owners of their chance to redeem should Purser decide the county can accept payments.
Within the week Purser will issue an opinion whether the county has the authority to accept the payments before the Legislature acts on it formally.
The properties are: 5256 Sprouse Road in Truxton, owned by Antonio Penetra Dos Santos and Maria Helena Gomes; 2964 Webb Road in Virgil, owned by Steve Terwilliger of Empress Development Corp.; 3417 Kellogg Road, Cortlandville, owned by David and Gina Nourse; and 15 Braeside Drive, Homer, owned by Barbara Jo Williams.
According to Treasurer Patrick O’Mara, $67,033 is owed on the properties. Their total assessed value is $371,239, he said.
Each property has extenuating circumstances that merit the county accepting payment, say some legislators.
Terwilliger said at Thursday’s meeting he did not know of the foreclosure proceedings because he never received notice of the situation from an employee who knew of the proceedings.
According to Natalie Miner, attorney for Williams, Williams is a widow whose taxes were paid by an escrow account which ended when the mortgage was paid. Williams apparently did not know the taxes were not paid on time until she found a tax foreclosure sign on her yard.
Other circumstances involve language barriers with the Truxton landowners and a rent-to-own contract on the Cortlandville property that resulted in the property owner not being notified of the foreclosure.
All property owners are apparently now willing to pay the taxes.
Kathie Arnold (D-Cuyler, Solon and Truxton), said she told the three property owners who are her constituents, to bring their matter before the courts in case Purser finds the county cannot accept the payments.
Arnold said she does not think the system is fair since certain property owners stand to lose much more than others, depending on the property values.
For example, some owners may have a property value of $200,000 which they could stand to lose from owing $15,000 in taxes. Another property owner may own a property valued at $5,000, which they lose because they owe $1,000 in taxes, she said.
“For us to be able to take people’s assets away on an unequitable basis, I don’t think (that) is fair and just,” Arnold said.
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