Tax assistance program in limbo

A proposal that would have provided temporary relief from property tax payments is in limbo after a division of the Washington County Economic Opportunity Council declined last week to oversee the program.

The advisory board of Community Action Angels said last week it could not assume oversight of the program, citing a lack of resources.

“It was the feeling of the advisory board of Community Action Angels, that while the idea of compassionate relief of property tax payments for critically ill people was a great idea, the Advisory committee was not able to take responsibility for a program of this size and scope at this time.” Claire Murphy, executive director of the county EOC, said.

Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff, who had pitched the idea to his fellow supervisors in July, described the decision as “disappointing.”

“I don’t know where we go from here, if there’s even a where to go to,” Haff said. “When I met with Claire Murphy and the Action Angels they seemed very excited about the idea and even came up with initial draft of the program. A few weeks later when I asked about it, they said they weren’t able to do it. It went from hot to cold without ever being lukewarm.”

The Health Crisis Tax Relief Program, would have covered a person’s county, town, village and school taxes for the first year after they were diagnosed with a serious illness.

“This was to assist ill property owners who are current on their taxes in making a one year, one-time payment of property taxes so they would not slide into foreclosure,” Haff said. “That first year after diagnosis is typically the hardest because people are out of work.”

In order to qualify for assistance, a person would need to have been gainfully employed before diagnosis.

Haff, who developed the idea with Vicky Yattaw, a Hartford resident and resource coordinator at Glens Falls Hospital, had proposed that the Community Action Angels provide oversight of the program.

The county was hesitant to oversee the program because supervisors feared the legal ramifications of establishing the criteria for who would qualify and who wouldn’t.

“We felt it was more palatable if someone else set up the criteria,” Haff said.

Haff proposed using $50,000 from the county’s tax foreclosure auction. He chose that sum because it’s the same amount supervisors set aside to rehabilitate foreclosed properties so they could be sold.

The county received $420,181 from the sale of foreclosed homes this year and has received $3.3 million from since 2004.

“I find it ironic that we have all sorts of tax funded social programs paid for by property owners to assist renters that pay no property taxes but then find it too hard to assist those same property owners that have faithfully paid property taxes until laid low by an acute injury or illness,” Haff said.

To Haff’s knowledge, a similar program does not exist in any other counties in the state.

He said with lukewarm support among fellow supervisors and the absence of a viable alternative that could provide oversight, the proposal is adrift.

“Maybe it’s a germ of an idea and maybe next year the Action Angels are in better position,” he said.

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