Controller reports good initial response to tax notices

City residents are responding to letters sent to nearly 600 properties last month about their delinquent taxes, according to Controller Matt Agresta.

At yesterday’s Common Council meeting, Agresta said “We’ve had about 30 or so people come in either paying in full or getting into a payment agreement. The total amount [collected so far] is just under $80,000. But again that’s city, county, school, penalties, associated with each of these properties. That’s not all city money. But it is moving the process forward.”

“We’ve had a ton of phone calls,” said Agresta. He cited one tax office worker who reported an unprecedented 48 voice mails last Monday. “People are calling and want to know what is owed and how can they pay and what’s the best way to move forward.”

Common Council members have been discussing the idea of granting a tax “amnesty” on penalty fees. Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler asked if Agresta had any information about whether the idea was feasible or not.

Agresta said he has calls in to the NY State legal department that he is waiting for a response to, but said “At this point it doesn’t look like it will be the case. But without knowing exactly, I’m not going to say definitively. But that’s what I’ve been told. We want to get the legal opinion of the state to find out for sure.”

Alderman Ron Barone asked Agresta “Have we found out why they’re behind? Are we asking explanations why they’ve fallen behind?”

“I’ve had several people come in and every one of them has a particular reason why they can’t [pay]. Whether it’s they don’t make enough money, or they have a disabled child, or they lost their job, or they got in an accident. There’s been several different reasons why people have had issues with being able to pay.”

“Do you take something like that into consideration, especially with a child?” asked Barone.

“Well no, because that falls under [the question of] whether you can legally waive any of those fees,” replied Agresta. “If that were the case then we could obviously, that’s your decision to make. But without knowing that, I wouldn’t dare even try it.”

Barone said his intent is to see if the penalties could be waived for residents who are able to pay all their back taxes in one lump sum payment.

After the meeting, Agresta explained that the total amount of back taxes owed on the delinquent properties totals approximately $13.3 million. However he stressed that the figure included city, school district, and county taxes as well as accumulated penalty fees for late payments. He said he did not yet have a full breakdown of the make up of the total amount.

Agresta said that for every month a tax payment is late, a 2% penalty fee is added to the bill. He said the fees are not compounded, however they can add to a lot up over time.

“I think people are going to be surprised at the amount of interest and penalties that is a part of that $13.3 million,” said Agresta.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.