Saying the matter was handled poorly, the Schenectady City Council is now trying to sort out the mess in which a dozen nonprofits were taxed because they did not file their tax-exemption paperwork in time.
Half of those nonprofits will get their taxes refunded, thanks to a special act of the state Legislature last month, but the other half weren’t included. Councilman Thomas Della Sala said that was unfair and directed city officials to come up with a complete list of the affected nonprofits, so they could be exempted by the state. Each of the nonprofits failed to file their annual statement telling the city that they were still a nonprofit and therefore tax-exempt.
“I have no problem with holding the nonprofits accountable if they haven’t filed their paperwork on time,” Della Sala said at Monday’s council committees meeting. “I am having a problem with the situation where half of them are forgiven.”
Councilman Mark Blanchfield said the city should never have taxed the nonprofits in the first place.
“The filing date has been appropriately used by assessors to weed out fraud,” he said. “That’s what it’s for.”
He said the assessor should have checked on the 13 nonprofits that didn’t file. He would have found that only one — a church in Bellevue that had closed — was no longer a nonprofit. Instead, Assessor Patrick Mastro simply added all 13 to the tax roll.
Then, when some of them complained and were told to ask their state legislators for help, the city did not give the state a list of all 12 affected agencies.
Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said Sen. Hugh Farley’s staff has repeatedly asked him for a full list, but he doesn’t have it.
“I can’t tell you who they are,” he told the council.
Della Sala told him to get the list from Mastro and give it to Farley.
Councilman Gary McCarthy said the entire issue, which has dragged on for six months now, should have been handled better.
“We’re now creating animosity in the community,” he said. “It should have been handled differently internally. If they’ve had that exemption for the last 20 years, what do we have to do to make them equal with the ones that are more vocal or seen as having more stature in the community?”
Blanchfield added that the city should just not collect taxes from any of the legitimate nonprofits.
“We know they’re operating as a nonprofit. Let’s give them what they’re entitled to and move on,” he said. “This has been a huge waste of time.”
In other business, council members warily agreed to buy microphones and speakers for the committees room, where the council’s public discussions are usually inaudible over the drone of the air conditioners during the summer.
The sound system would cost $3,200, including installation, according to an estimate from SACC-TV. That’s far less than the $10,000 estimate the city received from a for-profit company last year.
Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard has been championing the issue, but her colleagues have not been enthusiastic because she wants to hook the microphones into a camera so the committees meetings can be broadcast on SACC-TV. Most of the council is opposed to broadcasting those meetings, although the voting sessions are already broadcast live.
The two most vocal opponents to the broadcasting, Councilman Joseph Allen and Councilwoman Denise Brucker, were initially dismissive of the sound system idea.
“Summer’s almost over,” Allen said.
Brucker added that the inaudibility isn’t a serious problem.
“It doesn’t seem to affect too many people,” she said.
Blanchard disagreed, saying the meetings violate the Open Meetings Law if the audience can’t hear what their representatives are saying.
She got the council’s support for the microphones by agreeing to legislation that would involve just that purchase, not the addition of broadcasting the meetings.
More from The Daily Gazette: