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Property owners on foreclosure list urged to discuss options with city

Thousands of city property owners have received four notices warning that they could lose their homes, lots and businesses at an October auction if they fail to pay delinquent taxes.

Still, the owners of nearly 4,800 parcels have yet to make good on outstanding property taxes, garbage user fees, and water and sewer bills.

Buffalo's top tax collector is imploring them to come forward, even if they don't have the money right now to wipe out the debts. The worst possible course of action, said Assessment and Taxation Commissioner Martin F. Kennedy, would be to continue ignoring additional notices that will be mailed this summer.

"If you have a problem, don't hide from it. It's not going to go away," Kennedy said. "We can help cure the problem by setting up payment plans."

The most recent foreclosure list shows 4,770 properties at risk of being sold at a three-day auction that will begin Oct. 25. Officials said the number of delinquent parcels is about average. There were about 4,500 properties on the foreclosure list a year ago. Back in the early summer of 2005, there were more than 5,400 properties on the list.

In early July, assessors will visit every property that appears on the foreclosure list, checking to make sure that structures haven't been demolished. In other instances, they may reduce the values of some properties that have deteriorated since the last review.

City officials expect the number of parcels on the list to drop by at least 25 percent in the four months leading up to the auction.

"That number will be significantly reduced as people come in with payments and arrange payment plans," Kennedy said.

Tax administrators are working with officials and legal advocacy groups to stage a series of assistance sessions a week before the auction.

As in prior years, attorneys will be stationed in the Erie County Courthouse to help property owners set up payment plans. The Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo; Legal Services for the Elderly, Disabled or Disadvantaged of Western New York; and the Volunteer Lawyers Project have worked closely with the city in previous years.

For more information about setting up payment plans, property owners can call 851-5733.

Meanwhile, the Common Council has urged Mayor Byron W. Brown to exempt from foreclosure proceedings all properties that have delinquent water bill payments "until a better method is put in place." Lawmakers cited some previous billing problems with water charges.

Some city officials said properties that are already on the foreclosure list cannot be removed. But they said the city has the power to exempt properties that are behind in water payments from future foreclosures. Kennedy said he is in favor of such an exemption.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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