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Syracuse weighs options for taking over delinquent owner-occupied properties

The city of Syracuse is cracking down on property owners who don't pay taxes. But, as lawmakers prepare to vote on whether the city should seize over 100 tax delinquent properties, there are some concerns about those properties that aren't vacant.

The process of getting these delinquent property owners to either pay up, or risk losing their home, started last fall with the creation of the land bank. City officials hope tougher tax collections can bring millions into the city's coffers at a time when Syracuse is in financial peril. About half of the owners of tax delinquent properties identified in phase one of the plan have paid back taxes.

For the rest, it's up to the Syracuse Common Council to approve seizing the properties, starting the process on Monday with a group of 26 mostly vacant properties. There are tenants in five of those properties, in coming weeks lawmakers will deal with owner occupied properties, which Councilor Jean Kessner says will force them to walk a fine line.

"How do we not make it hurtful," Kessner said. "How do we put all the stuff in place that transitions people? If they're not paying taxes and they can't afford to do their furnace, and they're $30,000 in the hole in a house that's worth $12,000, are we doing them a favor by leaving them there? I don't think so."

She compared the process to quitting smoking.

"Quitting smoking is really hard," Kessner said. "That's what this is kind of like. It's not easy at all, but you feel a lot better in the end and the city's a lot healthier in the end. And we've got to get financially healthy."

Councilor-at-Large Pat Hogan says he foresaw this problem when he opposed the creation of the land bank, which he says was sold as a way to deal with all the vacant crumbling properties in the city.

"I think we should address the vacant and dilapidated structures, and in the meantime work with people who have fallen behind in their taxes, who are in this situation, the owner occupants," Hogan said. "I don't think the city wants to be in the situation where they are putting people out on the street."

The city is offering options to property owners to help them pay taxes, or find somewhere else to live.