A Gilbertsville homeowner whose land was sold by Otsego County at a tax auction last year said Monday that he has filed a trespassing complaint with State Police after he found that someone had damaged property at his barn.
Robert Force, a U.S. Air Force reservist who lives on Long Island, has been locked in a dispute with Otsego County since July 2014 after the county treasurer's office rejected his offer to pay his back taxes on a house and 111 acres of farmland.
Had Force paid the taxes prior the county deadline, his parcel on County Route 51 in the town of Butternuts would not have been in the sale held at the Holiday Inn in Oneonta last August.
Force is continuing to contest the legality of the sale of his property despite coming out on the losing end in a lawsuit he filed in an attempt to nullify the sale.
"I have yet to be contacted by this county and have yet to be sent any certified mail about anything regarding the transfer of my deed," Force said.
Officials confirmed for The Daily Star that the treasurer's office sent the new deed for the parcel last Friday to the high bidder at the auction, Christos Parakevopoulos of Seaford.
Attempts to reach Parakevopoulos for comment were unsuccessful.
Force and a second homeowner, Maria Ajello of Richfield, have repeatedly urged the county board, without success, to accept late payment and invalidate the auction results.
The transfer of the Ajello deed to the high bidder for that property has been held up while county officials wait to determine if Ajello will appeal a lower court decision that dismissed her lawsuit.
The homeowners say the county raked in much more money from the auction sale than what was actually owed in back taxes, noting they will have been stripped of all their equity should the transfers be finalized.
Force argued that while county officials have said only properties with taxes owed dating back four years are entered into the auction, he paid his taxes in 2010 and 2012. At the time of the sale, he said he and his wife, Donna, owed back taxes only for the years 2011 and 2013.
According to county Treasurer Dan Crowell, who is on military leave this week, the county has proof that both Ajello and Force accepted notices warning them that their parcels would be put into the auction if they did not pay their back taxes by the 2014 deadline.
Force argued it is unfair for the county to consider taking tax-foreclosed properties out of the auction in order to offer them to the city of Oneonta, without extending the deadline for taxpayers who fell behind in their tax payments and were willing to pay the back bills and penalties in full.
A resolution authorizing the transfer of the property to Parakevopoulos was pulled from the Board of Representatives agenda after county attorney Ellen Coccoma determined that the board did not need to approve the transfer as the property had been sold by the county at public auction. The county took title to the properties that were auctioned off when delinquent taxpayers had not paid their taxes as of July 1, 2014.
Force contended no one has a right to enter the property until he is formerly evicted. He also said he is looking into bringing further legal challenges to the sale.
State Trooper Nathan Riegal, the spokesman for Troop C, Sidney, confirmed that police were provided with a complaint by Force on Monday. Riegal said the investigation is continuing.
The 2015 tax auction will be held Aug. 26 at the Holiday Inn in Oneonta. It will be conducted by Auctions International of East Aurora. Buyers who pay with cash will be charged a 6 percent commission that goes to the auction company.