Foreclosure process hits snag with county over certificates of redemption

A difference in opinion has developed between the attorneys for the city and Montgomery County. The issue has to do with an element of the city’s ongoing foreclosure process called a certificate of redemption which is a statement filed by the city to the County Clerk’s office indicating that a certain property’s back taxes have been paid in full and therefore should not be foreclosed on. City officials discussed the problem at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting.

“We have had a little legal snag with the county,” said Controller Matt Agresta when asked about the progress of the foreclosure process, “They have an issue with the certificates of redemption that we have filed with them. So [Corporation Counsel Gerry DeCusatis] is currently trying to work with [County Attorney Meghan Manion] in order to try to get that straightened out so we can move the process forward. Because frankly it’s getting a little frustrating.”

“What’s the hold up?” asked Alderman Ron Barone, “We couldn’t have avoided this before we got into this?”

Both Agresta and DeCusatis said the problem was unexpected.

“The problem is that they’ve taken an interpretation of the real property tax law which is not a plain language reading of the real property tax law,” said DeCusatis. “And it’s difficult to get a response from the county attorney. So we’ve made numerous phone calls which have not been returned. Sent a letter. A letter was issued in response but contained some errors in assumptions. So we immediately sent a letter back to correct. So now we are waiting for a response from them. Hopefully they will realize that it would be easier to pick up the phone or try to understand what the right way to do things is.”

“Why is this county all of a sudden not answering our call here? I don’t understand. What would they have to gain by us not going into foreclosure?” asked Barone.

Then to Mayor Ann Thane, Barone said angrily, “It’s one stall after another stall and you want us to meet with you all the time because you’re the one that’s going to help everything. Well help this. Get on the county, get to that phone, tell the lawyer up there, ‘get on the stick lady’ and let’s get this thing going.”

“I called her office, I called [County Executive] Matt Ossenfort and talked about it. It’s not the legislature that’s holding it up. There is a difference of opinion between the attorneys,” said Thane.

A call requesting comment placed to the County Attorney’s office Wednesday was directed to Communications Specialist Andrew Santillo, who issued a statement later in the day:

“The Certificates of Redemption being filed by the City of Amsterdam do not match the List of Delinquent Taxes that was filed with the County Clerk’s Office. The properties in question are not fully redeemed, based on what the City of Amsterdam has filed and therefore cannot be marked as such. The County Treasurer, County Clerk and County Attorney have discussed this issue and concur that the Certificates of Redemption must match or exceed the original List of Delinquent Taxes, in order for them to be properly marked as redeemed.”

According to DeCusatis, there is a valid reason for the mismatch. When reached for comment on Wednesday, he explained that the total amount of delinquent taxes for a property include the total for all previous years added to the current year. However, in the case of approximately 10-20 properties, the owners paid off the back taxes and the current year’s taxes up to when the most recent quarterly payment was due, but not for any other payments for the year that weren’t due yet. It’s for that reason the two figures do not match.

DeCusatis also said that in his view, it was up to the city’s controller, not the county, to determine whether a property is redeemed or not.

In regards to the situation, DeCusatis said at the meeting. “If it’s not reasonably resolved in the next day or so, we’ll just put it in front of the court and let the court decide.”

He also added, “That will not be a cumbersome or time-consuming process, that would be a very quick thing. Basically a letter motion, and probably resolved within a week.”

Tim Becker

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