ROTTERDAM, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Despite the impending deadline to pay their property taxes on time, many residents in Rotterdam’s Sewer District 2, Extension 1 still hold out hope there will be a solution to their outrageously high sewer charges.
“I was waiting until the last possible minute. I was even probably going to drop it off Monday night, because technically that’s still January 31,” says one homeowner Debbie Reutter.
As NEWS10 has reported, multiple data entry errors in late December caused the entire cost of this year’s debt payment for a 2016 sewer improvement project to be pushed onto the 150 or so residents in Rotterdam’s Sewer District 2, Extension 1. It forced these homeowners’ bills into the thousands of dollars.
“I saw the charge, I think around $1400, and it was completely disorienting. I think my father told you his daughter was in tears, well that’s me,” Reutter says.
It was an error the town’s newly elected administration said was impossible to change. However, the Schenectady County Legislature has now announced a resolution aiming to correct the tax charges.
Chairman Anthony Jasenski says the Real Property Tax department found an allowance in state law that would let the county intervene if the resolution passes during the next legislature meeting on February 8. The process would require Rotterdam to file an “Application for Correction of Multi-Parcel Errors” and supply worksheets detailing every single property affected, how the incorrect tax calculation occurred, and how much each homeowner is actually required to pay.
“It’s not unusual for us to receive requests for tax corrections from municipalities throughout the year, whether they be exemptions that were improperly filed or exemptions that folks were entitled to but did not receive, but I think what makes this case so unique is that it wasn’t just one or two people, but around 140 errors all due to the same reason and also the scale of what took place in terms of the amount of money,” explains Schenectady County Legislature Chairman Anthony Jasenski.
“Once the county legislature acts, those tax bills are frozen and it gives the town a window within which to issue correct tax bills,” Jasenski further explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
Rotterdam town leaders have already submitted an application that the county received Wednesday. Jasenski says based on the multiple meetings held on the matter, he believes the resolution will pass easily.
“Once the receiver of taxes gets the notice from the county legislature, then she will be able to correct those bills, and we’re hoping that by the third week of March we will have those corrected bills out. Anyone who overpaid already, the refund will be issued if they have a mortgage company back to their escrow, and if they paid in cash, they will be issued a check,” says Rotterdam Town Supervisor Mollie Collins.
The incorrect bills would be reduced and no late penalties would apply to those who choose not to pay even past the January 31 deadline. Also, although the town would not be able to reissue all the taxes for around 1500 properties in District 2 to evenly distribute the sewer project debt, anyone who didn’t get charged at all this year will see a new charge in 2023. Jasenski says the estimated average cost will be around $36. While neighbors like Reutter say they are thrilled and relieved, questions do still remain on how the mistake happened in the first place.
“I think the town leaders took this seriously and realized they had to fix this problem that they didn’t create, but still, I don’t know why anybody didn’t see it. You would think that they would spot check [the tax bills] and notice that say $1400 or $1500 difference is a lot,” Reutter says.
Supervisor Collins and Deputy Supervisor Jack Dodson say it was difficult responding to such a huge crisis during their first few weeks in office, but assure the community there will be future safeguards. “We’ve implemented monthly department head meetings. I think the more that each department is able to communicate with each other and almost to act as another set of eyes on anything, I think that will straighten out a lot of the things that we’ve seen,” Collins says.
“Continuity needs to be maintained in records to make sure that the next administration or the next person taking over that position realizes you just can’t—those aren’t arbitrary numbers. They’re actually numbers with meaning and a foundation behind them,” Dodson adds.
Another added complication to the sewer tax errors was a correction the previous town board attempted to make in how the residents of District 2 are taxed based on the frontage of their properties. Dodson says this is one change that will likely stay the same, although the cost breakdown associated with the frontage units will be corrected.
“Units are determined when districts are formed, so the issue here with this district being formed in 1957 based on frontage, that stays with the debt service so that’s probably not something we will change,” he explains.
He and Collins say they’re both also relieved to have finally straightened things out. “I think it’s less for us, more relief for the residents who got these tax bills. The most rewarding part of this was collaborating with everyone together, including the county, to find a way we could resolve this issue for them,” Dodson says.
“Yes, I think that’s what we’re happy about. Bringing that resolution to our residents, elected officials are elected to serve the residents, and that’s what we hope to do,” adds Collins. “Our department heads have certainly shown that they are more than willing to work together and to work long, hard hours to resolve an issue, and I think that’s something that we really want to build on that we are a team.”