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Westchester Cities Frustrated By Foreign Governments Not Paying Property Bills

Mozambique, Swaziland And Cameroon Among Those Refusing To Pay Up
Property In New Rochelle belonging to Swaziland. (credit: CBS 2)

Property In New Rochelle belonging to Swaziland. (credit: CBS 2)

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NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — They buy homes, let them languish and refuse to pay taxes.

A number of houses owned by foreign governments in Westchester County have racked up outstanding local taxes.

Local governments are finding it frustrating, not being able to collect the taxes, but now Sen. Chuck Schumer is looking to put the pressure on to bring a resolution to the situation.

Some places look the part like, while others are overgrown and neglected. Whether it’s the New Rochelle home owned by the nation of Mozambique or Swaziland’s place up the road or the pair of properties owned by Ghana in neighboring Mount Vernon, they all have something common — all have outstanding local taxes and high unpaid bills.

“Occasionally we read about a diplomat who has some unpaid parking tickets. This is that problem on steroids,” Atty. John Murtagh told CBS 2’s Lou Young.

In cities strapped for cash with underfunded schools and busted budgets, it hurts badly and accounts for as much as 2 percent of the tax load in some places.

“Every time a tax comes up, we send them an arrears notice that you owe X, Y, Z and we’d like you to pay your taxes,” said Mount Vernon Comptroller Maureen Walker, adding that the countries “never respond.”

By law, foreign countries get to bypass most property taxes if they house diplomats in the properties. However, they’re always required to pay sewer taxes and trash pick-up and the like. If the properties are left vacant, the deal is off.

Local municipalities said multiple countries have racked up large back tax bills exactly that way.

New Rochelle has been trying to collect millions from a property owned by the nation of Cameroon. The courts have been no help.

Senator Chuck Schumer has asked the State Department and the United Nations to start applying pressure to individual offenders.

Some are encouraged.

“We were going to the city council next week to write them off as uncollectible. Perhaps we might want to hold off a little bit now maybe Sen. Schumer can come up with some sort of an arrangement that will allow us to collect some of this money,” said New Rochelle City Manager Chuck Strome.

Every dime collected from the foreign governments is a little less stress on an overtaxed suburbia.

As if on cue following the story by CBS 2, someone from Tanzania’s mission to the United Nations called the Mount Vernon comptroller’s office Wednesday asking about the size of their outstanding bill, which is $78,000 for unpaid sewer and trash taxes plus interest.

How do you think this situation can be resolved?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below…