September 3, 2010


County panel devises foreclosure policy

Homeowners would have up until nine days before tax auction to pay overdue bill

Staff Reporter

A subcommittee of the Cortland County Legislature is proposing a policy barring the county from returning land to property owners once the county takes ownership for failure to pay property taxes.
A homeowner would have up until nine days prior to an auction to pay his or her bill. Eight days before the auction the property deed will be signed over to the county.
The subcommittee met for the first time Thursday.
The Legislature’s Budget and Finance Committee plans to vote on the subcommittee’s recommendation Sept. 16.
The subcommittee is setting policy for the county’s acceptance of delinquent tax payments so the county does not find itself in the same position it did this year when four property owners asked for the Legislature’s permission to pay their delinquent taxes after the foreclosure process had been completed.
The Legislature voted against reconveying the deeds in July because the properties had already been turned over to the county in May but the owners then sued the county to stop the auction. In August, the Legislature accepted the late payments with the caveat that the legal proceedings would stop.
To avoid the Legislature being asked to forgive future late payments, County Attorney Ed Purser advised the committee to set a uniform date prior to auction when the deeds will be conveyed to the county.
After this date, a property owner cannot get property back from the county unless he or she goes through the courts and a judge determines the action is legal. But up until a day before the deeds are signed over to the county, the property owners can pay their taxes and redeem their properties.
Legislature Chairman Jack Williams (D-8th Ward) said the policy would be included in the foreclosure notices that are mailed out to delinquent taxpayers.
Purser said once the county owns the land it must sell the properties to the highest bidder. He said the county should set a standard policy that forbids reconveying properties once the county owns the deeds.
Purser said the law will change the county’s current policy of signing the deeds over to the county as soon as possible.
“Previously it was done within a week or so of the judgment being signed. That was a problem because people want to pay but we own the property,” Purser said.
The deeds will instead be signed over to the county eight days prior to an auction. This gives property owners up until nine days prior to auction to pay their taxes, or the day before the deeds are signed over in the county’s name.
Property owners should know by March which properties are going to auction, said County Treasurer Patrick O’Mara. He said that the county compiles the foreclosure list Jan. 1 and it takes about two months for the courts to confirm whether the properties have been properly foreclosed upon.
The committee will also recommend that a penalty of 10 percent of the delinquent taxes due be assessed to the owners who redeem their delinquent properties. Purser is researching the date that this penalty should be assessed.
Committee Chair Kathie Arnold (D-Cuyler, Solon and Truxton) said the fine will give people an incentive not to pay beyond that date. Arnold had originally wanted to allow property owners the chance to redeem their properties until the day prior to auction.
“I am willing to compromise. Like Ed (Purser) says, this year and in the past no one has come a week before, it’s been prior to that,” she said, adding that the county could run into legal difficulties by reconveying the properties after it owns them.
Subcommittee members are Legislators Arnold, Susan Briggs (R-Cortlandville), Danny Ross (R-Cortlandville), Newell Willcox (R-Homer), Real Property Tax Services Director Bill Cinquanti, Purser and County Administrator Martin Murphy. O’Mara and Deputy Treasurer Carolyn Kennedy also attended the meeting as did Legislators Williams and Dave Fuller (R-Cincinnatus, Taylor, Freetown and Willet).


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