Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined by Erie County Director of Real Property Tax Services Joseph Maciejewski and Director of Budget & Management Robert Keating to discuss County revenue trends realized from enhanced property tax collections. After nearly a decade in which a New Jersey company serviced property tax liens, Erie County (“the County”) resumed the In Rem process in 2012. The 2012 In Rem sale – the first such sale since 2002- helped the County realize $6.7 million in property tax-related revenue. In 2013, the County held two In Rem sales which are projected to help the County to realize $10.3 million in revenue, which would help generate a $4.75 million positive budgetary variance in this area for 2013. This revenue supports non-mandated County operations such as the Sheriff road patrol, Highway services and road repair, cultural funding, educational and youth programming, and vector control for rodents.
“In Rem proceedings are always an action of last resort, and while it is unfortunate to have to go to this length to recover revenue due and owing to the County, these results benefit taxpayers and property owners across Erie County,” said Poloncarz. “2012 featured several significant changes in how In Rem sales were handled by the County which carried into 2013 with obvious positive results. We got out of the business of selling our tax liens, which I criticized as Comptroller, became much more involved in Article 7 corporate challenges to tax assessments, giving Erie County a voice at the table in tax decisions affecting us all, and we also continued to improve and streamline the payment process with web-based and credit card payment options that I introduced when I was Comptroller. In 2014 and beyond, Erie County will continue to act to protect communities and property owners by equitably enforcing property tax laws and ensuring that scofflaws do not unfairly burden residents.”
Poloncarz added, “I also wish to thank our partners in the towns and cities of Lackawanna and Tonawanda for their improved County tax collection efforts in 2013.”
The County held its first In Rem auction in March 2012, with 99 parcels offered for sale from across Erie County; actions had initially been filed on 216 parcels, with 117 of them being removed from the sale for reasons such as redemption or bankruptcy. In 2013, auctions were held in March and October, involving a total of 293 properties. The Adopted 2014 Erie County Budget projects that $8.5 million will be realized from property tax collection-related revenue, which is largely due to the projected impact of an In Rem sale scheduled for October 2014.
Additionally, in 2012 the County created the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation (the County Land Bank) to support municipal and regional revitalization efforts and strategically acquire, improve, assemble, and sell distressed, vacant, abandoned, and/or tax-delinquent properties. In 2013 the Land Bank acquired its first property, located at 39 Fowler Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda, at the October In Rem auction. The land bank will utilize its resources to stabilize the property, protect home values, and assist the neighborhood.
Director of Real Property Tax Services Joseph Maciejewski added, “In addition to commending the County Executive and Budget Director for their support, I would like to recognize the hard of work of the Real Property Tax Enforcement Unit. This group works with homeowners in the first instance to save their properties and this remains our main priority. However, in those instances in which there are abandoned properties and/or property owners who have repeatedly flouted the law and not paid their taxes, we will take action to protect the interests of all residents.”
Erie County’s objective in handling abandoned properties is to return such properties to the tax rolls. As such, the administration dedicates resources to the County Attorney and Department of Real Property Tax Services to continue to systematically and thoughtfully conduct In Rem proceedings on both abandoned properties and those properties where the owner does not responsibly maintain their property or pay property taxes. The County allows for partial payments on delinquent property taxes in any dollar amount, and does negotiate payment plans with residential property owners; currently, more homeowners are in payment plans than are in the In Rem process.