August 18, 2010
County to consider late tax payments
4 foreclosed properties that are subject of lawsuits would be transferred back to prior owners
Four property owners who sued Cortland County to stop foreclosure proceedings against them in July could have another chance to redeem their properties at the end of the month.
County Budget and Finance Committee members will vote on accepting the property owners’ late payments at Thursday’s meeting. The Legislature will vote again on accepting the payments at the Aug. 26 session.
Last month, the Legislature voted against accepting the late payments, following the advice of County Attorney Ed Purser who said the county might not be on sound legal footing in accepting them.
The property owners then filed court injunctions challenging the county’s right to auction their properties.
On July 31 the State Supreme Court blocked the auctioning of the four properties, planned that day, until the county gave more details of the circumstances of each foreclosure. The county is scheduled to prove its case in court Sept. 17.
But the resolutions call for an end to the court proceedings.
The properties are: 5256 Sprouse Road Truxton, owned by Antonio Penetra Dos Santos and Maria Helena Gomes; 2964 Webb Road in Virgil, owned by Steve Terwilliger of Empress Development Corp.; and 5908 Pease Hill Road in Cuyler, owned by John Conklyn, and 15 Braeside Drive in Homer, owned by Barbara Jo Williams.
Purser said he prepared the resolutions after the property owners’ attorneys asked him to reconsider the county’s position.
Purser said the resolutions accommodate both the property owners and those opposed to the county taking the land, since the votes to accept the payments failed by narrow margins last month.
The county has accepted late payments in the past. At the June 24 session, the Legislature approved accepting payment for two properties in Virgil and Truxton. Purser said the county had solid grounds for accepting those payments.
Purser said at the upcoming hearing the county would have to explain its reasoning for accepting those payments because there is a question of equal protection of the law.
Purser said those situations involved mistakes the county had made, such as sending notice of foreclosure to the wrong address, mistakenly not accepting payment for the taxes, etc.
While Purser feels these four property owners in the resolution were properly foreclosed upon, he said accepting the late payments allows the county to resolve the issue in a way that is in everyone’s best interests.
Budget and Finance Chair Kathie Arnold (D-Cuyler, Solon and Truxton) said she is glad the owners have another chance at redeeming their properties.
“The judges already did issue a stay and pull the properties out of the auction,” Arnold said. “That shows they saw some concern.”
Arnold said she is “100 percent” in favor of allowing the late payments.
“I hope it will be passed so we can be done with this issue and move on with other things and not have the county tied up in further litigation,” Arnold said.
Legislator Susan Briggs (R-Cortlandville) also favors accepting the payments.
“I don’t want to take these people’s property when they are standing there offering to pay,” Briggs said.
Briggs also said she thinks it is a wise business move to accept the payments now instead of going through the expense of selling them at auction.
Purser pointed to the stipulation in the resolutions that the property owners discontinue their action against the county.
“I think we’re trying to get along and resolve this in a manner that’s beneficial to all,” Purser said.
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