Town loses track of school tax dollars

The Town of Cicero cost the North Syracuse Central School District almost $500,000 in property taxes, according to the district superintendent, Dr. Jerome Melvin.

How does that much money disappear? Paperwork, or lack thereof.

The previous tax assessor, Keith Pitman, never processed the tax exemption applications for two not-for-profit organizations in the area, current Tax Assessor Anita Barnello said.

The two organizations, Syracuse Research Management and the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency, own four parcels of land that should be exempt from school taxes. But without the proper filing of paperwork, they were wrongly billed for a combined total of $480,642.65.

"So that's money that the school thinks it should get, but doesn't," she said.

"We made a mistake," said Cicero Town Supervisor Chet Dudzinski, who, along with Barnello, met with Melvin last month to discuss the matter. "We're going to rectify that mistake. This is something that will never happen again."

To make sure it never will happen again, Barnello said she is considering making the tax exemption application process a little more lenient.

"Instead of sending these companies bills right off the bat," she said. "We'll call to make sure they aren't exempt from taxes before we take their money."

Melvin said the town expressed "strong regret" for the mishap, and issued a private apology. But the damage is already done, according to Melvin, who said any financial implications of the mistake are still unclear.

"This is may hurt us as far as anticipated savings are concerned," he said. "And that means this may affect employee benefits, including health coverage, I'm afraid."

Whatever the reason may be, Melvin said the school can't absorb another fiscal loss of this magnitude.

"This just can't happen again," Melvin said. "The board sets the tax rate based on these assessments.

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