By KEITH and CYNTHIA AHLSTROM
We have been homeowners in the city of Dunkirk for the past 36 years, and have made significant improvements to our home through the years. In 2010 we had the opportunity to purchase an unhabitable home adjacent to ours, and we demolished the home and built a garage on the property, greatly enhancing our neighborhood.
We recently received a Notice of Foreclosure from the Chautauqua County Real Property Tax Department for the 2011 County tax bill, and had the pleasure of reading our names in the newspaper on the foreclosure list. While we do not dispute our obligation to pay this bill, we do take issue with the manner in which the county handles these proceedings.
The bill in question is one that never was sent to us, the owners of record since December of 2010. It was sent to the previous owner, who neglected to forward the notice.
The county in 2012 had no problem in sending us the 2012 Tax Bill, with no mention of any back taxes on it.
They again sent the 2011 bill to the previous owner even though county records show that at this time we were the owners of record. The Tax Department was also able to send the 2013 tax bill to the correct address. It was not until after the foreclosure notice process started that they then sent the bill to us, in January of 2013.
Our questions are why did the county Tax Department not send us a bill in 2011 for the 2011 taxes? Why did the Tax Department not send us a Tax Bill in 2012 or 2013 for the back taxes? Is it because if they let it go a penalty can be charged increasing their revenues? Is it because they are not capable of working on behalf of the taxpayers? We do not know how many others have fallen into this same problem, we do know that several people have told us of similar occurrences and the manner of indifference in which they have been treated by the tax department.
The Tax Commissioner James Caflisch responded to our inquiry as to the circumstances of this occurrence with the remark, "the cure is to just pay the taxes."
We would suggest that the cure is for the Tax Department to become a little more taxpayer friendly, and to not function with the attitude that every tax bill not paid is a "dead beat" or some one trying to beat the system, sometimes it might be taxpayers that would like to pay their bills, they only have to be provided one.
Keith and Cynthia Ahlstrom are Dunkirk residents.