A tax that died in the late 1970s resurfaced recently and angered some Buffalo residents who received notices telling them to pay an occupancy tax dating back to 1976 with interest. The tax, ranging for most homeowners from $8-12, was imposed for one year only in 1976, but nearly three percent of Buffalo residents never paid it. The city has been collecting the unpaid tax with interest as property changed hands. The delinquency notices appeared to signal a change in that policy. The notices told residents they needed to pay by the end of the month or the account would be sent to collections, but now Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown's office says that's not the case. His office is sending out letters to let residents know they can continue putting off payment until their homes are sold.
"There will be no penalty, they won't be reported to collections, none of those issues that were first identified in that bill, so we regret that that occurred," says Peter Cutler, Mayor Brown's director of communications.
The City though will not waive the interest accrued over the years. In some cases the interest amounts to four times the original fee. The Mayor's office and the Common Council both say legally the interest is now part of the tax and they can not waive it. "The only good thing is the interest rate is not like a compounding credit card type situation. The $8 due bill in 1976 is now $40 so... it's not like it's $1,000 at this point. We'd have a huge problem then," says Councilman Richard Fontana (D-Lovejoy).
If Buffalo homeowners decide to keep putting off their tax bills until their homes change hands the interest will keep accruing until that time.