YORKTOWN, N.Y. — The Yorktown Daily Voice accepts signed, original letters to the editor. Letters may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To the Editor,
When it comes to collecting unpaid taxes, Supervisor Michael Grace may find it helpful to check the record. He may also want to take another look at his comment, reported in last week’s issue of The Examiner, that, “it (the unpaid taxes) sat on her (Susan Siegel’s) desk for two years when she was there.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
When I took office (as Town Supervisor) in 2010, I was astounded — and horrified — to learn that the town had over $4 million in unpaid taxes (a.k.a. liens) on its books, some dating back to the 1970s. Yes, the 1970s. Many of the liens dated back to the time when Mr. Grace was town attorney.
This is the record of how, over two years, working with town staff and the Town Board, the town was able to collect over $2 million in back taxes. This is the record that Supervisor Grace either doesn’t know about — or — deliberately chooses to ignore in order to deflect attention from his own inaction.
Thanks to the hard work of several town employees, between 2010-2011, the town took the following actions to collect millions of dollars owed to the taxpayers of Yorktown:
1) In January 2011, just under $1 million in liens had to be wiped off the town’s books as uncollectable. This resulted in an unfortunate, but fiscally necessary, immediate draw down in the fund balance.
2) Letters were sent to approximately 100 property owners owing $1.98 million, giving them time to pay off their liens before the town-initiated foreclosure proceedings. Many did, and almost two dozen property owners entered into installment agreements, committing to pay off their liens within 24 months.
3) By February 2011, the town reported that $1.4 million in back taxes had been collected, including $966,700 that dated back to 1995-2008.
4) In March 2011, foreclosure proceedings were initiated for approximately 77 properties that had liens up to 2008. (A lien has to be approximately two years old before the town can initiate a foreclosure proceeding.)
5) In the fall of 2011, warning letters were sent to 179 property owners in arrears on their 2009 taxes. As a result, the town collected over $1 million from 142 property owners, including the owners of Trump Park. And, in October 2011, the town filed a 2009 foreclosure petition for the remaining 37 properties.
6) After the redemption period for the 2008 foreclosure list expired in the fall of 2011, the Planning Department was directed to prepare data sheets for each remaining parcel with unpaid back taxes and the Advisory Committee on Open Space (ACOS) was asked to review the vacant parcels and make recommendations regarding their future disposition.
7) In December 2011, the ACOS recommendations were shared with the Town Board, as well as with incoming Supervisor-elect Grace and Councilman-elect Paganelli.
8) By February 2012, 55 parcels remained on the 2008 foreclosure list, including 15 houses, 1 commercial building, a neighborhood swimming pool, 19 vacant parcels, 4 Mohegan Lake dock lots and 15 road widening strips. Together with the unredeemed parcels on the 2009 foreclosure list (the redemption period expired on February 29, 2012), the town was owed approximately $1.8 million in unpaid back taxes.
9) In February, two months after I left office, I addressed the “new” Town Board, gave each member a second copy of the ACOS recommendations for the vacant parcels and reminded board members about the June 1 deadline for removing properties from the 2012 assessment roll.
That brings readers up to the present and to Supervisor Grace's comment to The Examiner, that missing the June 1 deadline was a “a bit of a screw-up.”
For far too many years, Yorktown taxpayers have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars due to a lack of attention to detail, poor record keeping and a failure to act on the part of elected officials. During the two years I was in office, working closely with town staff, we were able to clean up a mess that stretched back over four decades and set in motion a process that could easily be kept up-to-date — if — there was someone in charge minding the store.
Sadly, I’m not sure that is happening and, as a regular Town Board observer, I’m increasingly concerned that the town runs the risk of falling back into its old habit of ignoring unpaid taxes. For example, has the current administration done anything to:
- Follow up on property owners who haven’t paid their 2010 taxes.
- Check to see whether the people who signed installment agreements are making their required payments. If they’re not making their payments, or paying their current taxes, the parcels are supposed to go back on the foreclosure list.
- Decide the fate of the remaining parcels on the 2008 and 2009 foreclosure lists. Several of the parcels have the potential for being sold.
When property owners don’t pay their taxes, other taxpayers end up paying their bills. And, when every dollar in the town’s treasury is critical, staying current on tax collections should be one of the supervisor’s top priorities. It’s common sense.
— Susan Siegel
Former Yorktown Town Supervisor and founder of Citizens for a Concerned Yorktown