The Ulster County Legislature’s September 20 public hearing on a proposed local law to provide for the collection of delinquent village property taxes in local villages drew but one speaker — Jeff Kaplan, the mayor of Ellenville.
“I’ve been lobbying the county for the 20 years that I have been mayor to consider this proposition, and I’m happy to see it’s finally before this board,” Kaplan said. “When the state created villages, they left very little direction for the towns and the counties as to what obligations either a county or town has for a village. And so they left a lot of discretion for both the counties and the towns. In the case of making a municipality whole, while you are obligated to make school districts and towns whole, there is a discretion when it comes to villages.”
Tax bills are issued by towns each January, and if they remain unpaid by May, they are turned over to the county, which then pays the whole amount to the towns and thus takes over the responsibility for collecting the delinquent bills. The county adds the bill amount plus penalties to its rolls the following January. If the taxes are unpaid for three years, the county can take foreclosure steps and sell the property at auction.
School districts have the same arrangement as the towns, issuing tax bills in July, turning unpaid bills over to the county in September, with the bill amount plus penalties added to its rolls in January. The proposed law would give the Ulster County villages of Ellenville, New Paltz and Saugerties the same option, thus relieving the villages of the burden of trying to collect the taxes themselves.
Kaplan said that Ulster County is one of just a few in New York State that doesn’t have similar avenues for villages to find relief, and he echoed his fellow mayors in saying it would be beneficial to Ellenville as well.
“We have a limited budget and it’s very difficult to try to get a budget together that works when you never know how much money you’re going to be able to collect,” Kaplan said. “So if people aren’t paying their taxes, we’ve got to go out and borrow money to make up for that tax difference. Towns and schools never have this issue.”
The proposed village law was first raised at a meeting of the Legislature on August 16, with Minority Leader Kenneth Ronk (R-Shawangunk) saying the move would align with his belief that the time of village government is over.
“Village government is, I think, becoming an obsolete level of government and an unnecessary and expensive level of government in a lot of places,” Ronk said. “In the Village of Saugerties and the Town of Saugerties, and in the Village of New Paltz and the Town of New Paltz you’ve seen a lot of consolidation of services, where there used to be two police departments there’s one police department.”
Joseph Maloney (D-Saugerties), one of the co-sponsors of the local law, agreed.
“In the Town of Saugerties, the Village owns the water and it’s on a piece of property on Town property, and we buy water from them,” Maloney said. “It’s insanity…The lower level you go in government, it seems the more antiquated the process.”
But Village of Saugerties Mayor Bill Murphy last month said the relationships between the Village and Town of Saugerties Supervisor Fred Costello work in a collaborative way. He added that living in a village provides services a town doesn’t, and that leaving isn’t necessarily the savings people believe it might be.
“People that live in a village, yes, they pay village tax and town tax,” Murphy said. “But they don’t pay the same level of town tax as town residents. A lot of people think when they move from a village to the town, they’re going to get a huge tax break. But even though they’re losing a village tax, the town tax becomes obviously greater because they’re a full-time town resident. It’s not the break you think it is.”
Easy and profitable
At the meeting of the county legislature last week, Kaplan said the process of adding villages to the county’s collection of delinquent property tax process would be easy for the county to manage, and profitable as well.
“You’ll make a lot of money for it because properties have increased significantly in the Village of Ellenville,” Kaplan said. “So this is not a losing proposition for the county, and clearly it would be a positive proposition for the Village of Ellenville, and I believe for Saugerties and New Paltz as well.”
Kaplan added that the county is likely already dealing with village property owners who are delinquent on their taxes as it is.
“Quite frankly, the same people that aren’t paying their town tax and their school tax aren’t paying the village tax, so it’s not like you have a whole array of new properties you’re dealing with. You’re going to deal with the same properties you’re foreclosing anyways. And what it does is it’s going to give more incentive for village taxpayers to know they’re going to be treated the same.”
The legislature is planning to bring the proposed law to a vote at its next meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, October 18.