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Tax increase, spending cuts pondered

City officials are considering hiring freezes, reductions in recreation, and eliminating funding to organizations.

This map shows all of the tax exempt property within the city of Albany boundaries, including property owned by local, state and federal government agencies, local churches, hospitals and other tax-exempt organizations.

This map shows all of the tax exempt property within the city of Albany boundaries, including property owned by local, state and federal government agencies, local churches, hospitals and other tax-exempt organizations.

ALBANY, Ga. — Albany City Manager James Taylor has unveiled the city’s $110.1 million Fiscal Year 2013 spending package that, while cut by $1.3 million, includes hiring freezes, cuts to city services and a proposed property tax increase.

City officials are proposing a 1.33-mill increase, which would generate $2 million. If approved, the increase would add $100 to the annual tax bill on a $200,000 home in the city of Albany and would bring the city’s total millage rate to 9.99. The increase comes after five straight years of property tax rate decreases, which lowered taxes by a total of 2.2 mills.

The proposal was one of many recommendations offered by Taylor, who gave commissioners a blunt assessment of the city’s financial situation.

“We must come to grips with our spending and we must ensure all pay for the services they receive; we cannot continue to be the safe haven for agencies or individuals,” Taylor said. “The city of Albany cannot afford to continue to be the financial sanctuary for organizations that are not charter responsibilities.”

The tax increase proposal took some on the commission by surprise.

“I don’t think now’s a good time to raise taxes, even though it’s a small amount of money. We don’t want to scare off industry or those who may be looking to move here, or run anyone off,” Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta. “I’m prepared to go to any length to try and cut spending so we don’t have to worry about a tax increase.”

Ward II Commissioner Ivey Hines and Mayor Dorothy Hubbard also expressed a desire to delve further into the budget to see if there are additional cuts that can be made in hopes of staving off a tax increase.

The proposed spending plan includes no funding for Albany’s Flint RiverQuarium or the Albany Civil Rights Institute and includes an immediate hiring freeze with a goal of eventually getting staffing down to 2006 levels, which would ultimately mean a 50- to 60-person reduction in budgeted positions over the next five to 10 years, Taylor said.

Taylor has suggested that local non-profits, including Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and area churches, pay an annual fee in lieu of taxes. This suggestion was made because of the large number of tax-exempt properties within the city.

“The question is how does the city continue to provide its current level of services without the participation of so many?” Taylor asked. “Remember that, as these entities continue to grow, they’re removing more and more from the tax digest.”

According to Taylor, more than 24 percent of the city’s total tax digest is property owned by tax-exempt entities.

According to Taylor, Phoebe CEO Joel Wernick has told him that Phoebe pays taxes on property it owns that isn’t directly used for medical purposes. How much Phoebe pays in taxes annually wasn’t a number that was immediately available from Phoebe officials on Monday.

While Phoebe is the city’s largest property-holding not-for-profit organization, the city itself is another large one, with an estimated $40 million worth of taxable property exempt simply because it’s owned by the city. That number includes 300 FEMA properties that were involved in the flood of 1994 and 124 recreational parcels.

“We’re are grateful that hospitals, schools, churches, government, state, and county agencies choose to reside in Albany. Albany is the service center of Southwest Georgia and we’re proud to serve but we need all of those who benefit from these services to come to our aid voluntarily,” Taylor said.

Ward V Commissioner Bob Langstaff said that he believes the commission, which has no direct authority over the Dougherty County Board of Tax Assessors, should issue a resolution asking the board to more thoroughly scrutinize non-profits seeking tax-exempt status.

“I think we should suggest that they take a good, hard look at non-profits before they hand them a tax exemption,” Langstaff said.

Dougherty County Tax Director Denver Hooten told commissioners that the board is currently in the middle of an audit of existing non-profits and has already revoked the status of many that were either dissolved or improper.

The overall budget picture is a conservative one, Taylor says.

All of the city’s revenue funds have shrunk with the exception of the city’s solid waste enterprise fund.

Taylor said he intends to use that fund’s healthy reserves to balance the budget by pulling $2 million from that account and another $1 million from the city’s general fund reserves to balance the budget.

Cuts to spending would, in addition to eliminating subsidies to the aquarium and Civil Rights Institute, cut subsidies to the National Youth Sports Program and the Salvation Army; eliminate nine city positions; hold 32 percent of the staffing shortages at the Albany Police Department unfilled until FY 2014; eliminate cost-of-living or merit raises for city employees, and cancel the city’s fireworks shows on July 4, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Thinking long-term, Taylor told commissioners that he wants to reduce city staffing levels — currently at 930 employees — to 2006 levels. He also said that the city should research an option for early retirement to get the employee levels down, as well as implement a hiring freeze on all positions.

In what Taylor called a “blinding flash of the obvious,” commissioners could save money by reducing duplications in service that currently exist within the city government.

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A map of all of the tax-exempt properties in the city of Albany. Map includes property owned by local, state and federal government agencies, churches, charitable hospitals and other tax-exempt organizations.

“It seems unreasonable to me to ask the citizens to pay more when we have likely efficiencies that can or should be made,” Taylor said. “In the military, we’d call that a blinding flash of the obvious.”

Without calling them out specifically, Taylor pointed to duplication in finance, information technology, procurement, human resources and fleet maintenance departments that exist between the city and the Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission as places where the city could potentially realize savings.

How much savings isn’t known because, according to city staff, WG&L wouldn’t turn over its books.

“That’s something I’m definitely going to look into,” Hubbard, who as mayor also serves as chair of the WG&L board, said. “I don’t know if it’s a situation where they won’t tell us, or we just haven’t asked, but that should be a matter of public record and we have to got to get past all of these communication issues.”

Comments

KaosinAlbany 2 years, 4 months ago

So the BIG SPENDERS (ie City Commission) wants to spend more money with a mileage increase. This is their problem all they want is to spend, spend, spend and waste away our hard earned tax dollars to Cutliff Grove, University Gardens, Mediacom, etc. I will fight the mileage increase till my last breath. Our mileage rate is one of the highest in the state and only a hand full of tax payers left. Taxpayers v. City. Let's square off!!

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waltspecht 2 years, 4 months ago

Somehow, City services have got to be paid for. If the majority of the population are non-taxpayers, that only leaves Property owners to pick up the costs. Even if they allow for decreased property value, they will just increase the Millage rate to make up for the loss. So you either sell out and leave, or you accept the inevitable. Look at Detroit if you need an example of where things are headed. Don't think you can dump it on Industry either, because they also have options. Remember Firestone, Merck, Cooper Tire, Viking Distillery and a whole bunch of others? So it is Leaderships job to solve these problems, before they become Fatal to the City.

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Terry.Lewis 2 years, 4 months ago

A big part of the problem are NPOs in the city like Phoebe which have removed large swaths of property from the tax rolls. And like Kaos mentioned above, financial fiascos like Cutcliff Grove and University Gardens are not helpful in tight economic times.

The DCSS Finance Committee meets tomorrow morning and things are about to get very real on Pine Ave.

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 4 months ago

I have heard the rumors and it is about to blow! Come on Taxpayers, stand up and fight! Write your commissioner and tell him to collect from Cutliff Grove, Mediacom, etc. Don't take this lying down!!

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BettyBowTie 2 years, 4 months ago

No freaking way! I am sick of these people wasting my money. They need to start pondering their own political futures if they do this!

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BettyBowTie 2 years, 4 months ago

This city is pretty much done for anyway. I would leave in a hot minute if I could.

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Clif 2 years, 4 months ago

I left eight years ago and the most beautiful sight is to see Albany in the rear-view mirror.....I still own a house in Albany and the value goes down every year and the taxes go up every year....

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mr_nobody 2 years, 4 months ago

Charging a "fee" to NPO's? No wonder there's a contingent in NW Albany that wants to form their own city.

Granted, I think that while technically a NPO, Pheobe Putney is in a whole different boat than your local Salvation Army, Rescue Mission, Church, Red Cross, etc. I couldn't imagine the city forcing these organizations to pay any type of tax/or "fee". I imagine that if this starts, every church in Albany will finally agree on something.

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VSU 2 years, 4 months ago

Take some out of the welfare checks and make them pay for part of it. Why should hard working taxpeyers have to be the ones to always foot the bill.

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jglass 2 years, 4 months ago

So, Phoebe has purchased a lot of property, make them pay property taxes, not a fee, but property taxes. With the money they charge, there is no way they are a not for profit business. Wernick makes over $1,000,000 per year and no telling what other benefits. And, they put their money over somewhere in the bank in Caymen Islands. Sherwood is making movies and money with those movies, they should have to pay property taxes as well because they are in the for profit arena with the movies. Oh, and didn't the city just hire another assistant city manager? Why do we need more than one assistance city manager? It is so sad that a few have to pay for it all.

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whattheheck 2 years, 4 months ago

Phoebe said it would continue to pay property tax on the Palmyra property to appease Jeff Sinyard who woke up right before the deal went through. Hold them to that. But it should be mentioned that Phoebe does pay some tax on its property that has not been swallowed up yet in the money making combine. Whether Phoebe pays the proper tax on any holding is another matter since the assessors likely don't do an independent appraisal and likely are not qualified to do one.

For the record, Phoebe has "financial accounts" whatevertheheck those are in 5 foreign countries including the Caymans of course. And bear in mind, any taxes Phoebe pays winds up in our medical bills--along with everything else..

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straightface 2 years, 4 months ago

Exactly why do we need 2 assistant city managers. JAnice Allen ran the whole city by herself with no assistants at all.. Now that the men have taken over they need 2 people to help them.. thats a waste! and the city ran better than with no budget cuts and the city workers received raises every year and had employee appreciation days at chehaw every year.

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MRKIA 2 years, 4 months ago

WHEN YOU THINK OF WHAT YOU GET FOR THE MONEY SPENT ON GOVERNMENT BE GLAD YOU DON'T GET ALL YOU PAID FOR.

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mr_nobody 2 years, 4 months ago

I think the city (and the rest of our government for that matter) should have to do like the average tax-paying family has to do on a daily basis, and live on the money you have coming in. Families have to prioritize, make sacrifices, and plan for the future. Families can't just go to their boss and raise their salary every time they need more money. Nope... we all have to make do with what we've got.

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Albanite 2 years, 4 months ago

The FIRST Course of action is to consolidate the City, County and WG&L. Too many services are being duplicated. The second course of action is to replace Lem Edwards and to eliminate Lori Farkas's "job" (whatever that is).

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 4 months ago

I agree. I think consolidation would be a more feasible idea even though some will be without their current political positions, but you know what, I don't care because they could really give a flip about us. I still think consolidation needs to be taken to the people to vote on.

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Kay523 2 years, 4 months ago

we should consolidate duplicate services with the City and WGL, look at furloughs, quit spending so much on capital expenditures, and look at a millage increase as a last resort. if you put furloughs on the table, the city staff will find a way to cut costs without a tax increase!

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Jacob 2 years, 4 months ago

Well said. What exactly, other than being a rich and powerful guy's daughter, qualifies her for the "job?"

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dingleberry 2 years, 4 months ago

The percentage of tax exempt property in the city/county is likely higher than Taylor thinks it is. He is looking at the gross numbers actually in the digest which may not include all the values for non-profit properties not input by the tax assessors in the recent past. For example, values for the new sanctuary of Mt Zion on Westover, all the housing units in Albany Public Housing's Kingsbury and Sherman Oaks complexes,the $14 million Dept of Human Resources building, and the ACRI are not shown on the internet records. There are plenty more not recorded if one cares to look. So, we may be in worse shape than it appears in relation to other cities taxable vs non-taxable ratios.

And let's not forget the many parcels of land, and in some cases housing, owned by the city that are not on the tax rolls. Go to the tax assessor website and take a gander at what the city owns--there are around 230 housing units in addition to the 1,125 owned by the Housing Authority--none paying taxes of course. Just the number of pieces of land owned by the city thanks to the flood staggers the imagination. And then there are the tax free projects like Arcadia Commons and Arcadia Courtside--and others--built with HUD money that pay no tax.

My suggestion to Albany is to get out of future low rent housing development--build no more. This means the role of the Dept of Community and Economic Development (DCED) should be more in favor of business development which has taken a back seat to low rent housing programs. When a business is developed, it generates revenues of all types, including property taxes, and jobs. On the other hand, subsidized housing development, which is where most effort seems to have been placed for many years, generates a larger population of "poor" who absorb funds for public services--we grow our own poverty. Even if jobs are wanted by these residents, we don't have them to offer.

Most of the money going into subsidized housing is not provided by local taxpayers. However, such housing creates a constant drain on funds for services of all types--and we simply can't afford what we have much less more of this housing. It is a "field of dreams"--we built it and they have come.

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 4 months ago

Well said. I agree with your idea also. No more housing projects to import the poor. We lost big when we had to pay back the feds for the failed Cutliff Project and University Gardens project. Another reason to get out of low income housing for the city.

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dingleberry 2 years, 4 months ago

What happened in connection with Cutliff and University is a prime example of people who were clueless in carrying out their duties from start to finish. The city asked for what it got by doing everything that can be done wrong and the taxpayer picked up the slack.

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whattheheck 2 years, 4 months ago

I fully understand how city officials and citizens feel about more funding for venues such as the ACRI and Riverquarium. In my opinion, taxpayer funds should not have been used on either from the outset. However, they are here and they are struggling, I strongly suggest that Mr. Taylor and Ms. Hubbard get with both activities for a frank assessment of whether they can survive with or without more city support.

My reading of financial information casts doubt on the ability of these venues to survive without continued help--future prospects were overstated and misstated from the outset and if not careful, we will likely have two more big downtown holes to fill before long. Now is the time to get this squared away.

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Abytaxpayer 2 years, 4 months ago

"Blinding flash of the obvious," tax-exempt entities are freeloading on the backs of the Taxpayers. Tax-exempt entities should be paying a fee to help offset the burden they place on the rest of the community for infrastructure and fire and police protection. Albany Commissioners claim with a straight face to be “Pro-Business” but just wait and see how must respect they have for the Business Community when they decide not “if” but how much a rate increase they are going to cram down our throats. Instead of Albany Commissioners acting as responsible adults and putting a stop to being every bleeding heart’s nanny, they will once again put the screws to the people of Albany who work for their money.

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whattheheck 2 years, 4 months ago

But of course they will turn the screws on the worker. Why should things change now when it has always worked so well?

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dingleberry 2 years, 4 months ago

Two city officials are going to be disappointed. Jim Taylor who thinks non-profits will "do the right thing" and pony up to pay for some of the services they receive--no chance.. Roger Marietta who thinks that we may scare off industry that may be planning to move here--even less chance. My goodness, Roger, with all that Albany doesn't have to offer, how could this possibly make any difference?

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Justice4Moma 2 years, 4 months ago

Well if they dont get the taxes one way they will try another.Everyone every where is hurting.And yet they want to raise taxes on people who pay the taxes,to help those who do not.Way to go people.If just half of you had to live like some of us out here in the real world do,i bet you could not make it.You all are to use to using our money to line your pockets.People are getting tired of this.I dont mind helping anyone,but they have to be willing to help them selves.The people who run this city,wants to live off the people who pay taxes,us.They dont want new buissness here,it might mess up there way of getting our money.And building all these low income projects,must stop.We have enough here that are not even being used.Tthen you have some of our officals that put money(our money) into things like Cuttlift,and see where it went.It is time for our officals to start getting money from the tax payers that do not pay there taxes.There is a web site that tells you who all owes money to Albany,you would not be suprised to see some of the names that owe money,and have it to pay,they are just to greedy.I am tired of being sick and tired.But what can you do,they keep you broke enough that you can not move.Make it where if you try to move and have a home to sale,you can not do it.People do not want to live here.And who is at fault?I think we all know the answer.(and i know i miss spelled some things,so what,get over it i am mad.

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 4 months ago

Where is the website? I would love to see it.

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tocar 2 years, 4 months ago

Wish I could leave this place. We continue to be a joke all over Georgia.

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Clif 2 years, 4 months ago

Albany is a scaled down picture of the national position. Some of the very people ranting here against higher taxes and less handouts are willing to overlook and vote for Sanford Bishop and Barak Obama. This is living proof that "take out the trash day" is the same day as the most important election the USA has ever seen.

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mr_nobody 2 years, 4 months ago

If "more than 24 percent of the city’s total tax digest is property owned by tax-exempt entities", just a casual glance at the map graphic will show that a big part of that 24% is owned by the city, county, and state. So, it appears that our local governments are contributing to this tax-void just as much, if not more, than any other NPO or tax-exempt organization.

Seems like if the city is in a pinch, it seems reasonable to consolidate buildings and sell to private individuals/businesses. It would generate immediate revenue and increase the tax base.

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whattheheck 2 years, 4 months ago

Sounds good on the surface but when the list of properties is viewed, there is little anyone would really want to buy. Much of it is vacant lots or lots with houses that need to be torn down. The city routinely gives vacant land to groups wanting to either build more low rent subsidized or cheap housing and in so doing is creating more demand for goods and services well beyond taxes generated, if any are. In such cases, we are better off just sitting on the land.

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agonized 2 years, 4 months ago

Well put. Then you have the properties like that stupid radiator shop that has so many issues with proper clean-up by the EPA that it's a huge liability. Most of the city property that has been acquired has often just been given to the city because the owner didn't want it, nor anyone else. The owner gets a trade-off and the city gets burned. The huge problem with the tax digest didn't happen overnight and it won't be fixed overnight either.

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dingleberry 2 years, 4 months ago

Albany has a plethora of problems a tax increase simply isn't going to solve. The fact that the three taxing entities combined have one of, if not the, highest tax rates in the state is nothing new so you leaders who are now so concerned about adding to the ,millage shut just shut up--we are tired of your fake "concerns" for our well being. Reminds me of the saying "the higher the baboon climbs up a flag pole, the more it shows its butt",, (made gender neutral of political correctness). No more butts, please.

But on the subj of property tax, a $1 million tax assessment brings in a whopping $15,700 for city, co, and BOE combined--the city's part being around $4,000. But when that $1 million investment, regardless of source of funds, is put into subsidized housing, it creates a demand for all sorts of public services that cost the taxpayers dearly. The more of such housing we get, the deeper the hole is dug.

On the other hand, if someone were fool enough to bring in a $1 million business, it would generate taxes, fees, and jobs that would provide revenue rather than absorb revenue. It is what businesses we have left that are carrying the real burden of government support costs and keeping the tent from folding.

Property taxes are often the "go to" for funds to support the excesses of government rather than government learning to live within its means and cut services well beyond the basics. In this regard, Jim Taylor is correctly thinking and talking on things "within the charter". Cut out the thirst for federal housing dollars for the "poor", cut out or reduce services, and try to address, with the help of the county and BOE, those matters that keep businesses out of Albany. We need more business not more poor people. Dim the torch on our blue arch that is attracting poverty people from far and wide to the city with the big welfare check. We can no longer afford them.

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Abytaxpayer 2 years, 4 months ago

dingleberry you painted a very good picture of Albany's situation. Thanks for the smile you provided with the flag pole. You painted the Politicians correctly with that one. Hopefully some of them will see themselves on the flagpole and realize we see them up there too.

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 4 months ago

Yes, the current leaders need to switch gears. What happened with Dorothy's promise trying to be a cheerleader in bring jobs to the region? I haven't seen her do it yet! Typical, once elected then break all promises. That's the Democratic way for ya!

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 4 months ago

Also, what came of her trip to Washington? Never heard a word about what she actually did there. Cut out lavish trips for the city leaders also. Why do we need to pay any of them to leave GA to do who knows what?

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agonized 2 years, 4 months ago

It sounds like Taylor is thinking in the right direction, but talk about a "blinding flash of the obvious"!! Is it just now occurring to the City that there is a tax digest problem? Just take a look around downtown and a little beyond...everything is either owned by the government, gone out of business or is owned by Phoebe. I would really love to know how much Phoebe pays in taxes annually. I hope that is followed up on. With the acquisition of Palmyra and the huge Digestive Disorders clinic they are building on Meredyth Drive, beside the huge Tower that they already own, Phoebe will soon be the largest property owner here.

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JR 2 years, 4 months ago

quote from "agonized": everything is either owned by the government, gone out of business or is owned by Phoebe.

So shortsighted. In other words, Phoebe is one of the few growing areas keeping this town afloat. Therefore, let's run at it with pitchforks.

You're a funny town, All-benny. So jealous of success there. If something is succesful, you assume corruption, want to knock them down, or place blame at its feet for other probems vs seeing the massive good it does.

If our little town had a golden goose, we'd feed it. You want to starve it. funny.

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TheMember 2 years, 4 months ago

Instead of just bashing Phoebe for taking up all the property and not paying taxes, we need to realize how much indigent care they provide to all the citizens who use the emergency room as their family doctor. I agree they should probably pay some, but unfortunately we are probably getting the better end of the deal by them paying for the nonpayers.

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Justice4Moma 2 years, 3 months ago

http://www.11alive.com/news/article/202556/12/List-of-latenon-filers-as-of-June-30-2011 now this is said to be from 2011,but some are still late or very late,what i can not understand is the shape our town is in,how come they dont go after some of these people.And to find this on the news of not Albany,but another news station like here,well some one dont want us to know something,I know this is 2012,but how many do you think have paid.And more over,how many are leaders,officals,that dog us tax payers for money?

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Justice4Moma 2 years, 3 months ago

The only thing they are pondering is tax increase,not there spending.

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