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Lewis committee shows little interest in tax installment plans

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LOWVILLE — A Lewis County legislative panel showed little interest in allowing residents to pay property taxes in installments.

“I don’t really like it,” said Taxation Committee member Paul M. Stanford, D-Watson, during Wednesday’s committee meeting.

“The question is, ‘Are we really doing anybody a favor?’” added Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan.

The idea of offering installment payment plans, which was floated in past years, was again mentioned at last week’s regular meeting of the Legislature and referred to the Taxation Committee.

County Treasurer Patricia L. O’Brien told committee members that such a program, if implemented, would be available only to property owners who are completely up-to-date on their taxes.

It also would require participants to make regular, uniform payments — whether quarterly, monthly or some other time period — and be defaulted from the program after a single non-payment, she said.

While some people appear to be looking for a way to periodically pay off back taxes as they get money in, such a program would not be allowed under the current tax law, Mrs. O’Brien said.

“The ones that we’ve heard it from are the ones that are so delinquent that they wouldn’t be eligible,” she said.

County Manager David H. Pendergast also cautioned legislators about waiting until later in the year to receive tax payments.

“Before we start getting taxes in, our cash flow is very, very tight,” he said.

Unless all 17 towns were to buy into an installed payment plan, residents — after getting their town and county tax bills in January — could not begin using such a plan until at least June, when towns turn over any uncollected tax bills to the county treasurer’s office, Mrs. O’Brien said.

The county could then theoretically allow those people to make payments over the next 12 months to cover their bills, but interest and penalties for delinquent payment would be added, she said.

“Other counties do it,” Mrs. O’Brien said.

Wyoming County, a similar-sized county in western New York, has such a program, but only about 40 people utilize it, while about 150 Essex County residents use its payment plan, she said.

Mr. Stanford said he would be concerned that people could be put in worse financial shape if they didn’t understand the plan set-up and that it could mean more complication and paperwork for the treasurer’s office staff.

The committee, which also oversees information technology, also discussed the idea of paperless board meetings. However, they also seemed disinterested in that, suggesting that needed technology upgrades would be cost-prohibitive.

Some thought was given to projecting resolutions on a viewing screen so members of the public could follow along, but it was questioned how beneficial that would be, given the speed at which most are approved.

Anyone planning to attend meetings may access the packet of resolutions at the county’s web site beforehand, Mr. Stanford said.

Committee meetings on Wednesday were the first public ones attended by Mr. Pendergast in several weeks, as he has been battling an ongoing bacterial infection.

The county manager, who has maintained telephone contact with other county officials and made a few brief courthouse appearances during that time, said he is feeling better but plans to work partial days while regaining his strength.

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