RAMAPO (WABC) --Rockland County officials on Tuesday announced that they are now taking an aggressive approach to targeting tax delinquents.
One of the biggest offenders reportedly has a tax bill of more than $500,000, and it just happens to be part of a controversial construction project.
County Executive Ed Day and County Attorney Thomas Humbach unveiled the new effort to expedite the foreclosure process for non-residential tax delinquent properties that are confirmed to be vacant, with the new policy recognizing that the county is permitted to legally foreclose on land parcels that owe real property taxes in two years instead of three years.
The new policy also allows the county to seek foreclosure against property owners who breach pre-arranged installment payment agreements in a timely fashion.
"This new policy will help to alleviate the financial burden that these properties impose on our taxpayers," Day said. "Starting this week, we will move aggressively on foreclosures when they become ripe, and not delay unnecessarily."
Day made the announcement outside the 208-acre Patrick Farm property in Ramapo, which is the largest non-residential tax delinquent property in Rockland. It is also at the heart of one of the most controversial proposed developments in the county, with a group called Rosa for Rockland suing to stop the project.
In 2001, the 208-acre property was purchased by a Hasidic developer who plans to build more than 400 units of housing. Over the years, the town has approved zoning changes that would clear the way for multi-family homes, but opponents fear the untouched open space, which is part wetland, will turn into a densely populated exclusionary community a la Kiryas Joel.
Now, the county is moving to foreclose on Patrick Farm due to the back taxes.
Scenic Development, LLC., which owns the Patrick Farm parcels totaling over 150 acres, owes more than $350,000 of tax debt. At this time, this amount is anticipated to rise to $500,000 or more when the county receives its 2016 tax transfer from the Town of Ramapo within the next few weeks.
Even if the tax bill is paid, the developer -- who didn't respond to an Eyewitness News request for comment -- faces an uphill battle with 17 separate lawsuits pending against the project.
Working with Rockland's Department of Finance, Humbach has identified 125 non-residential tax delinquent properties from Stony Point to Sparkill to Suffern that owe more than $3.3 million to Rockland County.
"This effort is about turning liabilities into assets," Humbach said. "Controlling the county's costs involves seeking payment from tax debtors. The county is making every effort to collect money to maintain the funding needed to provide the services the taxpayers demand."
Officials say properties that have accrued delinquent taxes have negative spillover effects that impact neighboring properties and, when concentrated, entire communities. Research links foreclosed, vacant, and abandoned properties with reduced property values, increased crime, increased risk to public health and welfare and increased costs for municipal governments.
"Today we send a clear message to delinquent property owners that my Administration will seek out money owed to the County of Rockland with vigor and intent using new and innovative approaches," Day said. "As we work every day to restore the County's fiscal health, we expect this effort to generate much-needed dollars."
Visit RocklandGov.com for a complete listing of non-residential tax delinquent properties in Rockland County.