Nonprofits that were taxed by the city years ago may soon be dealing with more pressure from a private tax collection company.
Although the city is still trying to negotiate a deal with American Tax Funding, the collections agency is now trying to get its money from the nonprofit groups directly.
Regional manager Tadgh Macaulay admitted that he’s sent real estate agents to the Schenectady Hindu Temple to pressure the Hindus to pay up. As of last year, the temple owed $61,000 in taxes, interest and fees.
The congregants were deeply offended when some real estate agents showed the building during services, but Macaulay said he was hoping for a different response.
“I was hoping that would prompt the temple to come forward with some proposal,” he said.
He added that he did not specifically tell agents to show the building during services.
But, he said, it’s just business.
“I know the real estate agents are showing the property. We need to recover some money,” he said.
Among the nonprofit groups that face foreclosure are the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady and The Schenectady Civic Players.
Macaulay dismissed the negotiations with the city, saying officials haven’t offered anything of value despite years of discussions.
City officials want to trade other unpaid tax liens in exchange for the nonprofits’ liens.
But the liens are worthless, Macaulay said.
“They’re offering liens on properties that are burnt out and literally worthless,” he said.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said the city was still negotiating and communication was continuing as late as this week. But Macaulay said ATF was not negotiating.
“We haven’t changed our offer,” he said.
In related news, ATF officials cast doubt on one nonprofit’s story about its treatment.
Officials for Out The Box church told the City Council that ATF foreclosed on them during a church service.
However, ATF asset manager Misty Lages said law enforcement was called to the building just before the scheduled foreclosure because workers saw a box truck pull up outside. They feared the owners were about to remove the first-floor laundromat equipment, which is considered a fixed asset that remains with the building.
Workers had been checking the property three to five times a day because the owners had threatened to strip it, she said.
“There were no church services going on. They were moving things out of the building,” she said.
The nonprofits were taxed when they failed to file annual documentation affirming that they were still using their buildings for tax-exempt purposes.
Assessor Patrick Mastro decided in 2007 to enforce the rule by taxing agencies that did not comply.
Although that decision did catch at least one building that was no longer tax-exempt, it left a dozen other properties eligible for tax exemption with tax bills. After much work, most of the nonprofits got the state to pass individual resolutions giving the City Council the power to retroactively reinstate the nonprofits’ tax-exempt status.
But in the meantime, the city compounded the problem by selling the unpaid tax liens to ATF, making it impossible to simply erase the taxes retroactively. The city was selling almost every unpaid lien to ATF at the time.