Schuyler County’s annual property tax auction is scheduled to begin on October 2nd. However, county officials are giving foreclosed property owners one last chance to avoid the loss of their land.
The Schuyler County Legislature voted this week to allow former owners who lost their properties in this year’s foreclosure to submit offers to County Treasurer Holley Sokolowski to buy back the land. If accepted, County Attorney Steven Getman is authorized to prepare a deed to the former owner, returning the property.
The offer must be accompanied by payment of “the full amount of taxes, penalties, interest and other county expenses involved with the property,” the legislature held.
Offers can be accepted up to two weeks prior to the auction, or September 18, Sokolowski said.
“After the deadline, any remaining properties will be sold to the highest bidder at the county’s tax auction,” she explained.
Prior to the deadline, the county provides written notice of the buyback option to the former owners, Getman noted.
“The notice reminds them of the foreclosure and provides a way to avoid the sale,” Getman said. “Notices are sent by mail and, in addition, copies of the court’s foreclosure judgment are served on the properties by the sheriff’s department.”
The foreclosure order transferring ownership of each property to Schuyler County was entered by the New York State Supreme Court on June 27, Getman said.
The August 14th resolution is the latest step in the county’s efforts to collect overdue taxes while keeping people in their homes, Sokolowski said.
According to Sokolowski, each November, the county mails out Foreclosure Notices and Petitions to properties with back tax liens from the prior year. Those notices go out by both regular and certified mail to property owners, mortgage holders and others with identified interests in the delinquent properties. The notice warns that failure to pay the back taxes can result in a court order foreclosing on the property.
The county also publishes a list of the delinquent taxes in two local newspapers and, in certain cases, posts warnings on the properties that they could be sold for back taxes, she said.
In addition, though not required by law, in February, Sokolowski and Getman sent letters, with handwritten notes on the envelopes, to property owners who still had not paid their back taxes, in an effort to prevent foreclosure.
“That cut the delinquent list by more than half,” Sokolowski said. “A lot of people came in and paid when they got the letters.”
Finally, property owners were invited to attend an online conference with state-appointed court attorney/referee, to discuss settlement options with county officials.
Only after each of those steps occurred, Getman explained, did the court enter a judgment foreclosing on the property.
Under the law, after the foreclosure order, the county conducts a tax auction in order to satisfy delinquent property taxes, Getman said. At the auction, the property will go to the highest bidder. The successful bidder must pay the taxes due with any other lawful charges and fees and, is given a quitclaim deed to the property. Sale proceeds are then used to make the county whole for missed taxes, he explained.
“Pursuant to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, any surplus funds obtained as a result of the sale will be held in escrow, pending a determination of claims to those funds, above and beyond the county’s costs,” Getman said.
The properties to be auctioned will be posted on the county’s website and in pamphlets available at the treasurer’s office, Sokolowski said.
As County Treasurer, Sokolowski is the fiscal officer of county government and enforcement officer for unpaid property tax liens.
As County Attorney, Getman is the chief legal advisor for county government and responsible for the prosecution and defense of civil actions brought by and against the county, including tax matters.
The current chair of the Schuyler County Legislature is Carl Blowers. The resolution to allow the buy-back was introduced by the county’s “management and finance” committee, chaired by legislator Phil Barnes.
For more details on the buyback program, the tax auction and other aspects of the foreclosure process, interested persons can contact the county treasurer (607-535-8181) or visit the county’s website (https://www.schuylercounty.us).