Yonkers auctions off tax certificates to raise funds

NEWS 12 WESTCHESTER: The city hopes to make some revenue from eBay, and help people get a bargain. (June 28, 2012)

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Mount Vernon Mayor Ernie Davis was among hundreds of property owners whose delinquent property taxes were auctioned off by the city of Yonkers on Wednesday, with a handful of private investors snapping up the majority of the debt.

More than $4.6 million in tax liens on about 800 properties were on the auction block, from businesses, nonprofit organizations and churches to real estate firms, politicians and ordinary homeowners who had fallen behind on their property taxes.

The city auctions off tax debt every year in an effort to regain lost revenue from delinquent property owners, and is made whole when bidders pay those delinquent taxes. Delinquent owners have two years after a tax sale to redeem their properties, with interest, before the owners of the liens can request to take ownership of the properties.

And the city needs the cash: Yonkers is grappling with a budget deficit projected to reach $420 million by 2016.

Davis, who makes more than $209,000 a year between his mayor's salary and state pension, owes $4,255 in taxes dating back to 2010 on his condominium at 23 Water Grant St. Yonkers. At today's auction, an unidentified investor picked up the tax lien on his property, which Davis will now have to repay -- at 12 percent annual interest.

Davis didn't immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

Real estate firms accounted for the majority of the delinquent taxes, in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars. LNN Realty in Yonkers owes $24,386 on a Saw Mill River Road property, while I. park N-Valley LLC owes $793,842.

Attempts to reach LNN Realty and I. park N-Valley LLC were unsuccessful.

Nonprofits and churches are exempt from property taxes, but still have to pay county wastewater fees. Messiah Baptist Church on Warburton Avenue owes about $2,000 in sewer taxes; while the Yonkers Islamic Center owes about $1,000.

Property owners were allowed to bid on tax liens issued for their own properties and in some cases they ended up in bidding wars with investors who were snapping them up at Wednesday's auction.

Tshialamina Bisu, who owed about $6,000 in delinquent taxes to the city, was able to buy the tax lien issued for her property on Stewart Place -- at zero percent interest -- after a few tense moments of bidding against an investor.

The Yonkers woman said she fell behind on taxes and is planning to make good on the outstanding debt.

"I didn't sleep well last night," she said. "I don't think it's fair how they do this in public. It's embarrassing."

Yonkers officials said they sold an estimated $3 million in tax liens at Wednesday's auction at City Hall, which lasted several hours.

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