In a previous post I wrote about a totally opaque website on local politics. The site is called Common Sense Saratoga (CSS). After quite a bit of criticism about the anonymity of those involved in the site from a variety of sources they decided to post the names of four people they characterize as “Founders.” They listed them as follows:
· Gordon Boyd – Independence Party
· Ann Bullock – Democratic Party
· Mark Pingel – Republican Party
· Bob Turner – Democratic Party
As those of you who follow city politics will know, Boyd, Bullock, and Turner were all on the charter commission that promoted the city manager form of government and were active with It’s Time Saratoga which was the social media face of this group. I assume that this site will replace It’s Time Saratoga, continuing the strategy of distorting the issues facing the city to try to convince the public falsely that the city is in crisis and the only remedy is to change our form of government.
The entire project has the feel of this kind of spin. It no longer mentions the charter (yet anyway) but presents itself as interested in broader issues. The selection of the “founders” is meant to put a non-partisan face on the site to appear to represent a broad based perspective. Conspicuously absent from this list is Pat Kane who some of us suspect has a role in this but whose name was perhaps omitted because of his highly public and documented history of disturbing behavior.
Interestingly, only a short time ago, Zuzia Kwasniewski asked Bob Turner on the Saratoga Unites Facebook page if he was behind the anonymous website and he disavowed any involvement. Now, of course, we find that he was a founder. When I asked Zuzia if she could send me a screen shot of his response she returned to the website only to find that his comment had been deleted.
A Dubious Story On Unpaid City Taxes
The top story on the site is titled “Why Doesn’t Saratoga Collect It’s Back Taxes?”
The piece begins with “… a surprisingly large number of taxpayers simply will not pay their taxes and, based on past experience, they probably see no reason why they should.”
First of all to put this issue in perspective it is important to note that 95% of the property owners in the city pay their taxes on time.
Secondly, contrary to what this article implies the city charter spells out clearly the serious penalties for tax delinquency, and these regulations have been scrupulously adhered to by the city.
· Fines up to 15% per year
· Liens placed on delinquent properties which will mean the property cannot be sold
· Damage to personal credit rating of delinquent property owners
· Public embarrassment as names of delinquent taxpayers are required to be published annually in local newspapers
Understanding The Timing Of Property Seizures
The folks at CSS seem particularly upset at what they see as the indifference of the city to pursue seizing properties with liens on them. As often happens, in spite of what seems to make “common sense”, the issues are far more complicated than they appear. Such is the case with property seizures.
To begin with, New York State law requires three years before the city can seize property for failure to pay taxes. The process of the city seizing private property is long, complicated, and expensive both in terms of the cost in lawyer fees and in the time required of city staff. The city does not have the expertise to deal with foreclosures in house and so must find and hire outside counsel for this procedure. Rather than doing foreclosures one at a time and continuously finding and hiring lawyers, the economical way of dealing with seizures in a city of our size involves waiting till a number of delinquent parcels can be packaged and dealt with at the same time and only initiating foreclosure procedures as a last resort. If the city, in most cases can expect to get its taxes and penalties eventually without resorting to seizure, why tie up staff and spend unnecessary money on large legal fees unless it has been determined that the owner will never pay? It is also important to note that some of the delinquent property owners may be experiencing hard times, and the city prefers to try to give them time to recover rather than seize their property.
Saratoga is not a declining city like Utica where property values have plummeted and people are walking away from delinquent properties. The city will in the end get the taxes and penalties owed one way or the other. The question is when and at what cost.
When the city does end up seizing property, there is still the question of what to do with the property. The City does not want to be in the business of owning and maintaining delinquent properties. In the past the city has auctioned off foreclosed properties, a process that also involves the expenditure of many city resources
A thoughtful assessment of the situation free of malicious spin is that there is no crisis involving the city bleeding away lost revenue.
Here is a link to Finance Commissioner Madigan’s thoughtful report on how the city handles the issue of delinquent taxes presented at last Tuesday’s City Council meeting with additional comments by City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis and Commissioner of Accounts John Franck who reminisces about past properties the city has seized.
The Mysterious Uber Delinquent Taxpayer
Further on in this same piece the writer makes allegations about a particular delinquent taxpayer.
“One taxpayer of particular interest in this group is the beneficiary of long-standing contracts for services to the City. This individual owes to the City of Saratoga Springs and the City school district no less than $137,000 in back taxes, covering a total of nine lots throughout the city. “
The writer asserts that the parcels involved are worth over $1,300,000.00 and that “the owner operates thriving businesses on several of them.”
This is a pretty shocking accusation so I decided to use their comment option to inquire further about this case. I wrote them asking who this person was and if they would not name the person, what was their reasoning for protecting this delinquent.
When I clicked send, I got a message that I was a bot and was not allowed to access their site. As you may recall from an earlier post I had asked the site who they were and never received an answer. Having a blog myself, I know how easy it is to block people who one doesn’t want to hear from.
My experience with this group’s history, especially Mr. Kane, is that they are quite capable of making outrageous accusations for which there is no source of verification. Maybe some other reader out there might help me by going on their site and asking the same question.
Ellen Egger-Aimone’s Regrettable Comment
One comment that did get published came from Ellen Egger-Aimone. It reads as follows:
The managers of this website have posted a comment by Ms. Egger-Aimone that is truly odious. Ms. Egger-Aimone basically accuses Commissioner Michele Madigan of allowing developers to avoid paying taxes. She also asserts that Commissioner Madigan is hiding from the public who the delinquents are.
If Ms. Egger-Aimone had a better understanding of how city government works or had bothered to ask before she posted her comment she would have known that in fact what she is demanding already exists. That is, it already is public knowledge who is not paying their taxes. As noted earlier the names of those people delinquent in their taxes, including developers, are regularly posted in local newspapers as required by the city charter. Here is an image of the notice from last October.
But in an age of social media and negative campaigns, apparently Ms. Egger-Aimone doesn’t feel the need to be rigorous and accurate in making her accusations and is betting that her audience won’t care about fact checking either.
Ellen Egger- Aimone is the campaign manager for both Patty Morrison’s campaign to unseat Michele Madigan as Finance Commissioner and Kendall Hicks’ campaign to become Commissioner of Public Safety. Where are they on all this? Should the public expect to see a similar disregard for accuracy in their campaign materials? In a better world, both Patty Morrison and Kendall Hicks would disavow Ms. Egger-Aimone’s behavior but so far they have been silent.
And why would Gordon Boyd, Ann Bullock, Bob Turner, and Mark Pingel, the principles behind this site, tolerate and indeed promote this kind of garbage in both the articles they are publishing and the comments they decide to put up.
Ms. Egger-Aimone’s and this blog’s reckless and cruel attacks call to mind Attorney Joseph Welch’s response to similar baseless, character assassination efforts by Senator Joe McCarthy at the famous Army-McCarthy hearings.
We may well ask the same question of the participants in Common Sense Saratoga. Have they no sense of decency?