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Seeking forgiveness for unpaid tax debt

ALBANY -- Albany city and Albany County are working to straighten out a property tax mess that caused dozens of seniors not to pay what they owed and resulted in penalties.

Sometimes the best of intentions don't go unpunished and what the city did to try and make bills easier to understand caused some seniors to miss making payments.  So, imagine their surprise when they not only got notice of the missing payments, but also of the interest and penalties accruing.

"Instead of saying total tax due we put the amount due, and that was the first installment," said Kathy Sheehan, Albany City Treasurer.

A new bill and new problems for Albany's treasurer, taking blame for the city on the failure of 138 seniors to pay property taxes they owed. Seniors who qualify for a special program only have to pay half their taxes at a time each year.  2012's bills only listed that half owed instead of the full amount.  When some saw the second bill arrive, they looked at the stub and thought they already paid up. 

"I could see how it could be confusing for an elderly person," said 11th district county legislator Gary Domalewicz.
The county acts as the city's unpaid tax debt collection service.  Domalewicz says any interest and penalties should be forgiven.  "We're working on it now," he said.  "I have my council working on it and I'll be introducing it next month's meeting.  Hopefully we can fast track it and get it done very quickly."

Back at the treasurer's office, the new form also works for the new automated system processing payments.  It may be here to stay, displaying half the amount owed.

"Under that system if we had a different amount there, any senior who payed just the first installment that payment would have been rejected as an underpayment," Sheehan said.  When asked if anything can be done to prevent future problems, Sheehan said, "I'm sending out a notice to all seniors who only made that first installment payment this year so that they'll be getting a letter, it'll be on bright yellow paper and it'll really explain the process to them."

Legislator Domalewicz will formally bring up the issue of forgiving the interest and penalties for the 138 seniors at the Albany County legislature meeting planned for the second Monday of May.  The city has also asked for the forgiveness of penalties for 2013 bills due in January.
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