City residents in Johnstown late on more than $2M in tax payments 

PHOTOGRAPHER:

JOHNSTOWN – City of Johnstown residents currently owe more than $2 million in school, city and county taxes stretching back to 2015, according to Treasurer Thomas Herr. The $2,330,003.40 owed comes from 310 properties, or roughly 8% of the city’s 3,661 properties, Herr said. The treasurer said that total includes 272 properties that owe roughly $603,000 from last year.

The news comes as the city looks to resolve issues that arose during past Treasurer Michael Gifford’s tenure and as a result of his abrupt departure last September. It also comes as the city looks toward the future with the Johnstown Common Council approving a resolution Tuesday night that paves the way for residents to begin paying their taxes online.

Herr said the uncollected taxes from the previous year would have normally been collected in the fall, “But with Mike [Gifford] leaving early it didn’t get done until now.”

City officials continue to be locked out of the city’s electronic accounting system following Gifford’s departure in September, requiring Herr and other employees to process nearly all payments, excluding payroll, by hand.

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In October, Gifford said that he didn’t remember his Impact Solutions software login information and wouldn’t supply personal information even if he had it.

“That’s bad business practice, because if I gave somebody a personal password, then that means somebody could actually go in as ‘Michael Gifford’ and actually do postings and do whatever with bank accounts,” Gifford said. “That creates fraud, and I would not be party to anything that would create fraud.”

He said he no longer has a record of his passwords, which he said changed often.

Herr said the city is working with a vendor to install a new software system soon.

Herr has also been working to complete required yearly financial reports for 2018, 2019 and 2020 after the city failed to submit them to the state. New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli completed an audit last year criticizing the city for failing to do so. Herr expects the reports to be completed next month, allowing the city to finally place its more than $12 million bonding request out for bid.

In Tuesday’s State of the City address, Mayor Amy Praught said the city has recently received notice from the state regarding the audit.

“This letter stated that they never received the 90-day response from the last administration that was required by the state,” Praught said. The mayor said she and her staff were in the process of crafting a response.

The owners of the 310 properties that owe taxes have been notified by mail, according to Herr. Owners have a deadline of March 31 to pay their owed taxes, which average about $7,500, in full. If they don’t pay, a notice about their delinquency will appear in the newspaper and a $25 fee will be added. From there, the foreclosure process begins, which Herr said typically takes several years.

In a move that offers another tax payment option, the Common Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution that will allow residents to pay taxes online rather than in person or by mail. The resolution allows Systems East, Inc., of Cortland, to provide the city with software and support services to collect taxes through an online portal. Residents paying online will pay a 2.85% processing fee for each transaction, according to the resolution. The service does not come with a cost to the city, according to the resolution. Herr expects the portal to be operational for this year’s city tax payments in April.

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By Andrew Waite

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