Syracuse Common Councilors started the process of turning over tax-delinquent properties to the new Land Bank of Syracuse and Onondaga County on Monday, beginning a new era as the city tries to get rid of many dilapidated or abandoned properties that have been a blight on some neighborhoods, and a burden for tax collectors.
Lawmakers unanimously agreed to begin the process of foreclosure on 25 properties that will be turned over to the new Land Bank. They are the first properties that will be turned over to public authority with the hope that they will ultimately be redeveloped with new owners.
There were some tenants still living in this batch of properties. In September, lawmakers will vote on owner-occupied properties, and that's been the most difficult part of the process at this point, said city councilor Khalid Bey.
"I think there should be leniency, and certainly financial counseling for persons on fixed income, elderly or disabled persons. And maybe in that respect something can be worked out. And I've never said this, but maybe the Land Bank could consider a policy where within a certain amount of time the existing owner could get the first option to purchase, which is something they could consider."
Bey says there is help for any tenants or owner-occupants in a process that he says is the best thing for everyone.
"Nobody's being put out, but they may lose ownership. What's the alternative? Do we leave the property delinquent? We are dangerously approaching 60-percent non-taxable or no taxes collected. Do we allow that to happen and allow a state control board to come in? Or do we become responsible and become more efficient in our processes and maybe help people get back on their feet," said Bey.
This is the first of three votes lawmakers will make on tax delinquent properties, with the owner-occupied group saved for last. The city, which had ignored delinquent tax bills for years, began a crackdown on these properties last fall. It comes at a time when the city is in dire economic straits, and needs all the revenue it can get.
The debate over the process, has had political overtones in a year where many lawmakers are running for re-election and an upcoming Democratic primary for mayor.