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Photo by Phil Corso
By Phil Corso

Citing apparent attempts to beat the system, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) criticized the city Department of Finance, accusing it of allowing delinquent property owners who failed to pay their property taxes to remove their properties from the annual tax lien sale by submitting fraudulent checks.

According to Avella, property owners have exploited the system by knowingly submitting checks that later bounced, removing them from the annual tax lien sale. He said Finance had no means of detecting such an act and only enacted a $20 penalty for the bounced checks.

Additionally, Avella said he took issue with the payment plans Finance would organize with the apparently negligent property owners without requiring a down payment. The forsaken land, Avella said, eventually becomes an eyesore in the surrounding communities when property owners fail to pay the taxes due.

A Finance representative said the department was looking into the issue and considering ways to alleviate the supposed fraudulent activities.

“The fact that the Department of Finance is letting these negligent property owners game the system is unacceptable,” Avella said. “Every year the city is being cheated out of much needed property tax revenue.”

The senator said he collected the information with help from his Abandoned Property Tax Force, which researches abandoned properties that might need to be addressed.

In response, Avella introduced legislation in the Senate to force the city to require payment of delinquent charges by certified check or money order, eliminating the bouncing check schemes. The bill would also require a 20 percent down payment for any proposed installment plan, Avella said.

“Something’s got to give, whether it is internal or through support for this legislation,” Avella said.

Avella highlighted three Whitestone properties whose owners owe tens of thousands of dollars in property taxes after years of failing to pay them, zoning in on houses at 149-35 12th Ave., 149-43 12th Ave. and 24-19 Francis Lewis Blvd. All three owners had submitted checks to remove themselves from the annual tax lien sale, all of which ultimately bounced as many as three times, Avella said.

The property owners could not be reached for comment.

The property at 24-19 Francis Lewis Blvd. has been a popular topic of discussion for area elected officials after Avella and City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) traded jabs over whose office was more responsible for the cleaning up of the former eyesore.

“Clearly, the Department of Finance needs to change their policies to deal with property owners who consistently flout the need to pay their property taxes,” Avella said. “The checks the DOF receives as payment need to be certified and owners should not be able to enter their payment plans without making a down payment.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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