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Property Owners Make Request After Tax Sale

Deborah Najarro  |  Wayne County Correspondent

Lyons / Sodus, NY - On July 12, David Lieberman of 51 State St., in the Village of Sodus, quickly hand wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors asking them not to accept the bid for his home and property after learning that it was auctioned off at the Wayne County Real Property Tax Auction on June 22. His 3-bedroom family home for the last 15 years is assessed at $48,900 and sold for $4500 to Mr. Robert DeGrande of Wolcott. He was on an nstallment plan with the county for 2009 past due taxes of approximately $2100 as well as 2010 taxes due in the amount of $2900.

However, Lieberman was not alone. He was just one of ten property owners who wrote letters to the Board explaining why they were delinquent and why they were asking to keep their family homes and businesses. All letters stated that they intended to continue paying on their past due taxes.
On July 19, Lieberman along with five other property owners came to the board meeting and spoke directly to the supervisors during the Privilege of the Floor. Lieberman choked back tears when asking the board for a break. “Please give me another chance,” he asked.

Scott and Martha VanderWeel also spoke about their properties that were sold at auction on Leroy Island that included vacant waterfront land and part of their private marina business. “This is our livelihood,” they stated. “We made a payment in the spring but our mail has been vandalized so much lately that the post office asked us to move our mailbox,” Scott said. They also reported that they had family health problems and financial tragedies plague their efforts to stay afloat. They brought money to the meeting to make another payment. “We got behind but I talked to the Treasurer and made payments every year,” Scott said.

Three other property owners also stood before the board telling their story and asking for another chance.

When it came time to discuss the issue, the Board called for executive session which cleared the room so that they did not have to discuss it in front of the public. In the hall, Lieberman ran through a list of personal hardships from the last 18 months including two back surgeries, losing his job, divorce, going back to school for his CDL, and just recently getting a new job. “I actually just paid off the mortgage for the house in April,” he said. His intention was to take that money from his budget, along with his new wages, and apply it toward his taxes.

When the Board meeting reconvened, Supervisor Spickerman (Butler) requested an amendment to the resolution that would have excluded owner-occupied properties from being sold that day, and given those owners another 30 days to make payment arrangements for past due taxes. The amendment was voted down and the properties were sold as is, as stated, to the highest bidder. The Board had declined the VanderWeels, Lieberman and all other written and verbal requests.

Although the Board of Supervisors gets final say on accepting the bids, the Wayne County Office of Real Property Tax Service, in conjunction with the County Treasurer handles the process of putting properties up for sale at the annual auction, which sold 74 properties this year for a total of $868,000. According to Tom Warnick, the Wayne County Treasurer, this is the most number of properties sold at auction in county history. The revenue generated from the auction offsets the tax debt owed to the county by property owners for uncollected taxes.

Warnick stated that no single thing could account for the increase of property tax defaults because people come to him with so many different reasons for being behind. “I believe my job is to collect taxes not foreclose on homeowners,” he said. The process from past due tax bill to tax auction takes 30 months and many attempts to contact or work out installment plans with property owners.

Once the tax bill is three months past due, the county buys the total debt by paying off each of the other taxing entities that are still unpaid. They call this making them whole. This can include past due village and school taxes which get relevied, and added to the property’s total past due tax bill after the county pays for them.  “The County pays the other entities so that we can consolidate tax liens from multiple sources to one place,” explained Warnick.

According to the Treasurer, the collection process starts immediately after accruing this debt. By June of the same year, they send a letter to property owners offering an installment agreement that ranges from 2 to 24 months. “A lot of people take the offer,” he said. Those that do not reply get another letter, delivered first class, in July notifying them that late fees will begin in November.

The following June, almost 18 months after the original bill and 6 months into the next billing cycle, another letter notifies owners that their name will be printed in the paper for 3 weeks and by the end of the second year, the county has already begun a title search for all interested parties on unresponsive, unpaid properties. Another two mailings go to these entities, one first-class, one certified. “Some owners purposely don’t sign for the certified mail,” Warnick stated. “I think they know what it is going to say.”
Soon after that the county petitions the court to approve foreclosure on some of the properties for tax lien and files the deed in the county’s name. In May of the third year, they send one more letter notifying the owner of the upcoming auction, but by that time, the county already legally owns the property.

“Once this happens,” Warnick explained, “The county can do what it wants with the property.” Most of them are sold at auction to reclaim the tax liens that the county has been paying for each year of delinquency. Prices are set by the bidders and final high bids from the auction are later accepted or denied by the Board of Supervisors at the county meeting.

Warnick warns property owners not to assume that escrow is paying the taxes and not to wait to contact their office if there is a problem. Property owners can check the status of their town and county combined bill by contacting the Office of Real Property (315-946-5916) or the Treasurer’s Office (315-946-7441) both located at 16 William Street, Lyons. An online search at can also show recent past due bills. Past due property owners should be aware that outstanding current year taxes must be paid with interest before payments will apply toward any prior year’s past due amount.

Lieberman is having a yard sale before vacating his property and getting back to work even though the new owner offered to rent it to him as long as he needed a place to stay. “I paid for this house,” he said. “If I can’t have it, I don’t want to live here.” The VanderWeels are still in the midst of health and legal battles while they fight to keep their family and their business alive.
David Lieberman sits on the porch of his home as he prepares to move after tax sale.