Carver Community Center is now facing foreclosure, the latest in a string of nonprofits at danger because of a paperwork error long ago and an increasingly antagonistic relationship between the city and its private tax collector.
Carver is facing “imminent” foreclosure, Mayor Gary McCarthy said Monday. He asked the City Council to take emergency actions to pay off Carver’s tax debt to American Tax Funding, and thus prevent the foreclosure, but the council refused to act without taking more time to analyze the situation.
Carver is tax-exempt, but it was billed for taxes in 2007 after directors failed to file an annual document affirming that the property at 700 Craig St. was still being used for tax-exempt purposes. About a dozen other nonprofits, mostly churches, were also taxed for the same reason. Almost all of them refused to pay, and their delinquent tax liens were sold to ATF for collection even though most of them got the state Legislature to pass legislation retroactively allowing the city to forgive the taxes.
Now those agencies are facing foreclosure. The Hindu Temple has already been foreclosed upon, and the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady has been threatened for months. Others, including the Hibernians, simply paid off the taxes rather than risk losing their property.
It’s not clear how much Carver owes, and City Council members balked at paying an unknown amount for just one of the many nonprofits that refused to pay their taxes.
“We haven’t decided to do that for all these properties,” said Councilman Carl Erikson. “I’m uncertain — doing this would lend precedence … and we want to treat them fairly. I’d have to crunch the numbers and see what the total impact is.”
Councilwoman Margaret King said that Erikson had a point, but she argued that the council should act anyway to protect Carver Community Center.
“Things could happen so quickly,” she said of the potential foreclosure.
Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said the cost was simply too high to take immediate action. Some of the nonprofits owe hundreds of thousands of dollars to ATF.
“Certainly all our nonprofits are crucial to the city. It’s not that I don’t care about their future, but this is a huge decision,” she said.
The council has also been negotiating with ATF to get the nonprofits’ liens back for free. The city has some leverage because it plans to foreclose on Aug. 31 on more than 200 properties that ATF could also foreclose upon. If the city acts first, ATF’s liens on those properties will have no value. But the negotiations bogged down more than a week ago.
The council took no action on McCarthy’s request to stop the Carver Community Center foreclosure, but members said they might consider it again next week.
In other business, the council held a public hearing on whether to ban smoking in the parks.
For now, smoking is banned in the playgrounds, pools and baseball fields. The new law would extend that ban to all property within any city park.
Two residents told the council not to do it, for very different reasons.
Resident Robert Sanders, who is running a primary against Democratic Councilwoman Marion Porterfield for a city council seat, said the council should not legislate morality.
“Now, smoking is legal, OK?” he said.
Resident Nancy Towler told the council that a smoking ban would be worthless.
“I’m all for clean air, but you’re just picking on smoking,” she said. “If you really cared about air quality, you’d be looking at the causes of air pollution.”
She said banning cars, charcoal and lighting fluid in the parks would make a “real difference” in air quality.
Jeanie Orr of the Capital District Tobacco-Free Coalition urged the council to ban smoking anyway, so that fewer children think smoking is “acceptable.”
She added that smoke can trigger asthma attacks in children, and that some children pick up the toxic butts.