A real-property tax audit released by Ulster County comptroller March Gallagher on March 29 highlights a number of items guaranteed to exasperate the Ulster County taxpayer.
• At least $269,000 in taxpayer funds were squandered paying interest and penalties on properties owned by the county, money which could have been saved if only the county had paid its property taxes on time.
• $379,199 was inadvertently overpaid to the Kingston School District. Pay out the money the county did. The money has since been recovered.
• Properties lacking sufficient justification and documentation were inappropriately withdrawn from the County’s foreclosure process, which in some cases delayed tax collection by as much as a decade.
• One effect of the county’s delays in foreclosing on and auctioning properties is that the propertyowners can continue to use the properties tax-free.
The same county finance operation performed an erroneous wire transfer of approximately a million dollars to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. Though that money was also recovered, efforts had been made to conceal the mistake from the comptroller as well as from previous county executive Pat Ryan.
All bucks stopped with former finance commissioner Burt Gulnick. Whether he was storming out of meetings while under legislative questioning, trying to remove pesky internal auditors by eliminating their positions from the county budget, or blocking access to county records by the county comptroller, in hindsight he left all the red flags flapping.
In the absence of Gulnick, the comptroller says that her office is working with the county executive’s office to reorient foundering county fiscal operations. The county’s annual real-property tax revenues amount to approximately $76 million annually.
“Weak internal controls have resulted in a situation where properties and financial obligations were mismanaged at best,” said Gallagher. “The comptroller’s office cannot at this time assure the public that no theft occurred in the collection of real-property taxes, however, we are continuing our review of tax collections and the information kept between multiple systems.”
Ulster County executive Jen Metzger has asked state comptroller Tom DiNapoli and district attorney Dave Clegg to investigate.
Gulnick currently faces two separate court cases brought by former employees, a confidential secretary and a deputy commissioner of finance, who have retained legal services from the same law firm and in court papers allege similar discriminatory practices which, if true, paint the picture of a man who did not mix well with women in the workplace.