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Hundreds turn out to pay taxes early

Hundreds turn out to pay taxes early

IRS releases advisory on pre-payments
Hundreds turn out to pay taxes early
Glenville resident Al Jordan (right) fills out a check Wednesday to pay his taxes early.
Photographer: ERICA MILLER

CAPITAL REGION — People usually drag their feet about paying taxes, but local property owners stood in line Wednesday in hopes of paying their local property taxes as fast as the bills could be printed.

At several regional municipal tax collectors' offices, homeowners were hustling to pay their 2018 property taxes before Jan. 1, when new limits will be set on federal tax deductions.

"We had people right from when the door opened," said Glenville Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle, who estimated more than 300 town residents paid their taxes Wednesday. "It's been brisk. ... People have been very, very happy that the town has been so responsive."

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While some municipalities started collecting town and county taxes Wednesday, others will start on Thursday, and most municipalities in the Capital Region were on a path toward accepting tax payments days before they normally would. They are not mandated to accept payments before January.

Under pressure from residents and responding to an executive order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week and updated on Wednesday that directed quick preparation of local tax bills, Niskayuna, Glenville, Princetown and the city of Schenectady were among the communities accepting payments Wednesday.

The IRS clarified later Wednesday that pre-payments "may be tax deductible under certain circumstances."

It "depends on whether the taxpayer makes the payment in 2017 and the real property taxes are assessed prior to 2018," a news release stated.

The Niskayuna tax receiver's office also had lines of people much of the day Wednesday, with hundreds paying. The office is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and will stay open until 6 p.m. Thursday in anticipation of the more eager taxpayers.

Friday will be the New Year's Day holiday for most town employees in Schenectady County, but Koetzle said there's discussion about Glenville accepting tax payments that day — and possibly on Saturday — so residents can beat the federal tax bill deadline.

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There's been a lot of public interest, officials across the region said, since the language of the tax bill made it appear pre-payment on property taxes was possible. (Though the bill specifically prohibited people from pre-paying their income taxes for 2018 in order to get a better deduction.)

"If I had a dime for every email or call I've gotten, I could pay my tax bill," Koetzle said.

As of 2 p.m. Wednesday, about 100 property owners had paid their tax bills in person at Schenectady City Hall, but that doesn't include those who made the payments online. Those numbers would not be known until Thursday, city Supervisor of Receipts Ed Waterfield said.

In all cases, payments are being accepted in person or online; mailed tax bills still won't be received by residents until after Jan. 1. Those payments will then be due by the end of January, as they are every year.

The push for early payment is spurred by new limits on property tax deductions under the federal tax law that takes effect Jan. 1. Under the new law, the property tax deduction will be capped at $10,000 each year.

On Dec. 22, the same day President Donald Trump signed the tax bill, Cuomo issued an executive order requiring counties to expedite the issuing of town and county tax warrants for 2018. The executive order does not apply to school tax payments — which are generally paid in the fall — even though Cuomo made some initial remarks indicating that it would.

Despite the executive order, it isn't a slam-dunk that counties can get tax bill warrants prepared before the end of the year. In wealthy Westchester County, where high property values mean a $10,000 deduction limit could impact many residents, county leaders announced Tuesday that the county would be unable to process all the needed information prior to Jan. 1.

On Wednesday, the town of Rotterdam wasn't yet accepting payments, as Town Supervisor Steven Tommasone sought answers to questions such as the feasibility of the town accepting partial payments, which Cuomo said is permitted but which isn't generally allowed.

"We're not 100 percent there yet," Tommasone said at midday Wednesday. "The biggest problem with all this stuff, regardless of what the governor says, is that the systems in New York state aren't set up to allow this."

Late Wednesday, Tommasone said the town doesn't expected to have all the needed warrant information until late Thursday, but the town tax receiver's office will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday. The office is normally open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but 90 minutes is being added to try to meet the demand. He said the office will take payments Thursday, if the necessary tax bill information comes from the county.

In Saratoga County, Clifton Park town spokesman Matt Andrus said the town will accept payments from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday but decided not to open Wednesday to give the tax receiver's office time to prepare. 

"We've got to double-check the bills and that sort of thing," he said. "We just needed time to organize, because we have 14,000 bills to process."

But Andrus expects that once the doors open Thursday, there will be action.

"People are calling non-stop. We expect a crowd," he said.

In the town of Malta, the town tax receiver's office opened Wednesday and will be open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday, but Town Supervisor Vincent DeLucia cautioned the town isn't recommending people pay early.

"It is still not clear if the federal IRS will accept the early payment deductions," DeLucia said in a message to residents before the IRS released its advisory. "Therefore, the town does not recommend or suggest that there will be a benefit to pay early. Instead, the town recommends citizens to check with their professional tax advisers."

Tommasone, a financial adviser by profession, echoed those concerns.

"You're creating all this excitement with people wanting to prepare, and then the IRS could come back and say you can't do it," he said.

Saratoga Springs planned to start accepting payments in person at City Hall on Friday, but Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan said that's been moved up to 2 p.m. Thursday. The city charter, she said, requires that the warrant be approved by the City Council, and that's scheduled to happen at a special council meeting at 2 p.m.

Her sense from emails and phone calls is that there will be a line when payments start.

"We will be ready to go at 2 p.m.," Madigan said. "We're trying to be as flexible as possible and work with the taxpayer."

On Friday, the Saratoga Springs collection office will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Because towns and cities are still developing their responses, property owners interested in paying their 2018 taxes early are advised to check their municipality's website or check with the tax collector for hours.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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