August 27, 2010
County to return 4 foreclosed properties
Legislators accept late tax payments, call for new policy on paying overdue tax bill
The four Cortland County property owners who have sued the county to stop their foreclosed properties from being auctioned off will be able to pay their taxes and have their deeds reconveyed to them, the county Legislature decided Thursday.
The Legislature voted to accept the late payments, with a 14-5 vote for three of the resolutions and 15-4 for the fourth property owner, John Conklyn of 5908 Pease Hill Road in Cuyler.
Legislator Dave Fuller (R-Cincinnatus, Taylor, Freetown and Willet) opposed all but Conklyn’s, saying he had followed the proper procedure in trying to get his property back, by taking the matter to the courts.
The other 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.; and 15 Braeside Drive in Homer, owned by Barbara Jo Williams.
Legislators Don Spaulding (D-6th Ward), Michael Park (R-Homer) and Tom Hartnett (D-4th Ward) opposed all four resolutions. Jennifer Gofkowski (D-Homer) was absent.
Hartnett said the matter should never have come to the Legislature to decide.
“I don’t think the Legislature has the legal right to do any of that. I believe it should go through the court system, let the judge decide,” Hartnett said.
The Legislature voted on July 28 not to accept late payments. The property owners filed court injunctions, challenging the county’s right to auction their properties.
On July 30, the state Supreme Court blocked the auctioning of the four properties, planned for the next day, until the county gave more details of the circumstances of each foreclosure.
The county was scheduled to prove its case in court Sept. 17 but the four resolutions passed Thursday end the legal proceedings.
Fuller agreed with Hartnett, saying the county is setting a bad precedent by accepting the payments.
“It opens us up to the same thing year after year,” Fuller said.
But Legislator Ray Parker (D-2nd Ward) said he voted in favor of accepting the payments with mixed feelings. Other counties allow property owners to pay their taxes right up until a business day prior to the auction, he said.
The Cortland County Legislature accepted payments for four foreclosed properties in June, but Fuller said the two situations cannot be compared because those deeds had not yet been conveyed to the county.
Parker said he wanted the courts to make a decision faster on these latest properties but since he did not know when that would happen he did not want to delay the taxes being paid and risk paying litigation fees.
“I felt the courts put the county taxpayers in a stranglehold for a couple of months,” Parker said.
Both sides of the aisle agreed the county needs to establish a process and stick to it.
The county has established a subcommittee to determine what process to follow in the future event that property owners want to pay their taxes up until the time of auction.
But Park is skeptical.
“We’re going to form another committee and make laws we may not follow,” Park said, adding he is concerned the county might not be on solid legal grounds in accepting the late payments.
Last month the county acted upon the recommendation of County Attorney Ed Purser in not allowing these property owners to pay. Purser said since the deeds had already been conveyed to the county, it was the county’s obligation to then sell them to the highest bidder.
But Legislature Chairman Jack Williams (D-8th Ward) said during the session he wanted to avoid litigation.
“Due to the potential cost of litigation that could significantly decrease the total revenues gleaned from the auction ... and to put the matter to rest, the Legislature is now considering accepting payments,” Williams read from a statement at the time of the vote.
Williams also cited the subcommittee that is reviewing the county’s policy, saying it will establish a plan for the county to be consistent and avoid the situation from recurring.
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