By JOE LoTEMPLIO
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Clinton County legislators are considering allowing delinquent taxpayers more time to pay their late tax bills.
The change can’t come soon enough for one legislator.
“Distressed taxpayers are having a hard enough time as it is. We should make it a little easier for them,” Mark Dame (R-Area 8, City and Town of Plattsburgh) said.
Since the late 1990s, the county’s deadline has been mid-March for paying back taxes, typically just before a judge signs over title to delinquent properties.
The county would then hold an auction of the properties around mid-June. About 50 or 60 properties are auctioned off each year. Many are vacant lands or buildings, but some are homes occupied by the property owners.
Over the years, some people have come forward with their payments after the county takes possession of their land, as the auction looms.
But the county tells them the clock has run out, and the auction proceeds.
The county’s refusal to accept the delinquent payments has made several property owners irate, prompting some lawsuits. Several cases have gone to court, but the county’s policy has usually been upheld.
Dame has led the charge to change the rules and give late taxpayers more time to make their payments.
Legislators are considering a new local law that would halve the time between the county receiving title and the auction.
“There’s about 90 days between the time the county takes the property and the auction is held, and this will cut it to about 45 days,” he said.
“It’s not right up to the auction, but it’s a lot closer than it is now, and hopefully, this will help some people be able to keep their properties. I would have like to have seen even more time, but this is accommodating distressed taxpayers, and that was my goal.”
The legislation also calls for a 15 percent penalty for those who are paying late between the time the judge signs over title and the final deadline.
Dame said that would be excessive, since property owners who are two years late in tax payments already pay about 25 percent in penalties and interest.
At a recent meeting, he asked his fellow legislators to consider a 5 percent penalty.
“Adding another 15 percent would be counterproductive to what we are trying to do here,” he said.
“We want people to pay and be productive, and another 15 percent could prevent some people from paying.”
Legislature Chairman Jimmy Langley (R-Area 7, Peru) offered a compromise of a 10 percent penalty with the understanding that the legislature would re-examine the amount in one year.
“I understand what you are saying Mark, but they (late payers) do need to feel a little bit of a sting so they understand,” he said.
Dame agreed to Langley’s compromise.
“Being the reasonable person I am, I will go along with that,” he said.
Legislators will hold a public hearing on the new law at their meeting set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, and then vote on the law.
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