By ALISSA SCOTT
City Controller Matthew Agresta said there may be as many as 515 Amsterdam properties up for foreclosure, according to a list he compiled last week.
Agresta announced the number at the last Common Council meeting, but since then, Mayor Ann Thane said that statement is "incendiary."
"It was incendiary to say that these properties are eligible for foreclosure," Thane said. "The 500-plus being in foreclosure is not the case; 500 properties have fallen behind on their taxes."
Thane said owners are given several opportunities in the process to make arrangements to become current.
"Once you finally get to the step of foreclosure, it's a quarter of that number," Thane said.
However, there are more than 500 properties upon which back taxes are owed to the city.
Agresta said the amount of unpaid taxes range from less than $5 to tens of thousands of dollars.
The controller's office, in collaboration with the assessor's office, preliminarily ran the list of eligible homes in December and again in January to start the process.
To be eligible for foreclosure a parcel's owner must be delinquent on his or her taxes for at least two years.
Agresta acknowledged that the number may include some parcels that are consistently delinquent and are carried over year after year, but while sifting through the list, he said it's more likely that the 515 represent individual unpaid properties.
"Every parcel that is on here has its own address," Agresta said. "They're all different addresses."
He said there's no way for him to know, just by looking at the list, if the majority of the properties are abandoned or currently inhabited.
Agresta said that because a month has elapsed between the time he ran the report and last week, when he ran it again, the number could change.
"In that month, some people may have come in an entered into a payment agreement, so they would be taken off the list," Agresta said. "But, there may also be some people that as of Jan. 1, now meet that two-year delinquent threshold because now we're at the beginning of a new year. Those would have been added on."
Currently, Agresta said he's converting the list into a format usable by all involved parties.
"I'm ensuring that it has all the owners' information, any additional owners that may be listed on the property, the [parcel's identification] number and the amounts that are due from each parcel," Agresta said.
Once the list is in the proper format, his office will send each property what is called a dunning letter announcing it's up for foreclosure.
"The letter that we send will specify a date by which they will have had to either come in and pay the bill or set up a payment plan and make the 25 percent down payment required with the payment plan," Agresta said. "Or some sort of action to prove to us that they are making steps to actually stop this from happening, from losing their house."
Thane said after the owner receives the dunning letter, it is advertised twice in the newspaper, and each time, people are able to make arrangements with the controller's office.
The last time the city attempted a foreclosure list was in 2011, Agresta said, but he can't be sure they finished it. He said he has heard "it's been years" since one has been completed properly.
Thane said when she got into office, she wanted to have a foreclosure list created every year, so that over time the list shrinks.
Thane said when Heather Reynicke was controller, she was supposed to prepare the list, but with an accounting software conversion, the focus was "basically dropped during that time."
Once Ronald Wierzbicki took over after Reynicke, Thane said he was so overwhelmed by the office's fiscal problems that, again, the focus was elsewhere.
"But, I don't care when the last one was done," Agresta said. "I'm worried about trying to get one done now. ... We're just crossing all our t's and dotting all our i's and making sure that we have the list and that it is complete so we're not missing out on anything."
The foreclosure list is public information and is available for anyone to view in City Hall.