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Property tax partial payments opposed SanFilippo sees cash flow problems

Supporters tout it as a plan that would make it easier for cash-strapped homeowners to pay their tax bills and avoid property foreclosures.

But a crusade by some Common Council members to let people make partial payments for property taxes is being challenged by two top finance officials.

Buffalo Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo said he opposes the plan, warning it could disrupt a key revenue source at a time when the city is struggling to regain fiscal stability. The city counts on receiving most property tax checks in July and January.

"Allowing for partial payments of city taxes would create serious cash flow problems," he said. "Adding an element of unpredictability to the timing of the revenue would probably require the city to borrow more money to meet cash flow needs, increasing our costs."

Assessment and Taxation Commissioner Bruna Michaux echoed SanFilippo's concerns. She said the city already helps property owners avoid foreclosure, including setting up payment plans for those who are having difficulties paying their taxes. But Michaux agreed that creating a blanket policy that would allow people to make smaller payments on their tax debts could be a "devastating economic blow" to a city already plagued with fragile finances.

The Council's Legislation Committee is reviewing tax payment options and will likely ask to meet with SanFilippo and Michaux this month to further discuss the issue.

A task force created this spring by Mayor Anthony M. Masiello to address housing problems recommended an amendment to city Real Property Tax Law to allow for partial tax payments. A second change would make it easier for homeowners to pay delinquent taxes by extending the repayment plan period from 12 months to 24 months.

The advisory group believes the new policies would help curb "flipping," the practice of buying inexpensive homes at foreclosure sales, then quickly reselling them at inflated prices without making improvements. But Michaux doubts the new policy would have any noticeable impact on curbing unethical real estate practices.

"If they think this is going to reduce 'flipping,' I think they're sadly mistaken," Michaux said.

She took issue with task force claims that her office returns payments if property owners send in checks that are only a few dollars short of their tax liabilities, saying, "That's just not true . . ."

Several thousand properties remain on a foreclosure list and are to be sold at auction Oct. 24-26 in the Convention Center.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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