Clinton County Legislature candidate Mark Dame says the county's policy for selling tax-delinquent properties is unfair and should be changed.
"I don't get it," he said at a news conference Friday. "Not just as a candidate, but as a human being I don't get it."
Dame is a Republican seeking the Area 8 seat. Also running for the seat are Democrat Sally Sears-Mack and Conservative Party candidate James Carlin.
EXTRA TO FUND
The county seizes properties that are two years in arrears on taxes and sells them at a public auction. Property owners are given several notices that their property may be taken if they do not pay.
They are also given the option of setting up a payment plan.
The county keeps the money made at auctions, using the proceeds to pay the taxes owed and any auction-related costs.
The rest of it goes into the county's general fund.
Dame said that any money made on a sale at an auction beyond the taxes owed should go back to the property owner, not the county.
"This process is apparently legal, but that hardly makes it right," Dame said.
"It is un-American, immoral, heavy-handed, shameful and distinctly in conflict with the generous spirit that is part of our North Country personality."
The county made about $750,000 in this year's property auction. In contrast, Franklin County recouped only about half of what was owed in taxes at its recent auction.
Clinton County Treasurer Joseph Giroux said that tax auctions offer no guarantee for the county. He noted that the county had to pay the Village of Rouses Point about $350,000 for the former Holland House Hotel property that burned down a few years ago, and got only $14,000 for the lot at auction.
"And a lot of these properties have liens on them, so if we did give the money back, it would probably go to the lienholder and not the property owner," Giroux said.
He also noted that property owners are given at least a dozen notices that their lands will be seized, and each one clearly says the county does not share the auction proceeds.
"The last thing we want to do is take someone's property," Giroux said.
BEYOND THE DEBT
Dame said that if he is elected he will work to change the policy.
"It really doesn't matter why someone can't pay their property taxes. What matters is that government should treat them fairly, but this is not the case," he said.
"I am ashamed to say that our own local government keeps these poor people's money above and beyond the debt of taxes."
Dame also said the county should not rely on the sale of delinquent properties to bolster the general fund.
"If we ran a more efficient government, we wouldn't have to rely on that money."
Sears-Mack said she agrees with Dame.
She said many people are having tough times now, and some have to decide whether to buy food, medicine or pay their taxes.
"I don't think it is fair to make it even more difficult to live," she said.
Sears-Mack acknowledged that the issue is complex and that those who do pay on time could be affected if the county did not keep the excess funds from auction sales.
"I wouldn't want the county to come out on the short end of this, either, so I am not sure exactly how to apply this fairly," she said.
Carlin said he supports the county's policy of keeping the money.
Many steps are taken to give people a chance to pay their taxes, he said, and the county is clear about its rules.
"I don't have a problem with the way the county does this. I think it is a proper practice," he said.
"But I know this (seizing properties) is not something the county enjoys doing."
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