By Derek Liebig
A local supervisor is asking his peers to consider a program that would cover a year’s worth of property taxes for local residents who have experienced financial hardship due to a medical crisis.
Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff asked his fellow supervisors to consider the Health Crisis Tax Relief Program, during last Friday’s county board meeting.
“I think we need a plan to give some kind of short-term, compassionate relief to people who have a health-related issue that leads to a financial crisis,” he said.
The proposal would cover a person’s county, town, village and school taxes for the first year after they’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness.
In order to qualify for the program, a person would need to have been gainfully employed before diagnosis and current on their taxes..
“This would allow people to focus on their health and diagnosis,” Haff said.
He proposed the program be paid for using proceeds from the county’s sale of foreclosed homes. The county made $418,000 during last month’s foreclosure auction.
“I think with $418,000 net, we can afford to be compassionate,” he told fellow supervisors.
Vickie Yattow, a Hartford resident and resource navigator with Glens Falls Hospital’s C.R. Wood Cancer Center, works with patients who need financial help because of the cost of cancer treatments.
She said she has worked with a number of patients who went from being employed to losing their jobs following a diagnosis. She said many face tough choices and some can no longer afford to pay their taxes.
She told the story of a military veteran who lost his job after being diagnosed with cancer. He used all his income that would have normally been set aside for taxes to purchase food for his family and to put his daughter through school. When he died, his tax bill was transferred to his family who couldn’t pay.
“I can work with creditors, I can write grants for medical bills, utilities and food, but I don’t have the resources to help patients with their tax bills,” Yattow said.
Washington County does not have any programs of tax relief for people who are ill.
Haff said he has spoke with Claire Murphy, head of the Washington County Economic Opportunity Council, who indicated the Community Action Angels, an all volunteer group that provides assistance to those in need, may be willing to help.
“They could serve as the gate keepers,” Haff said, “and would be able to administer the program with no overhead.”
Cambridge Supervisor William “Beaver” Watkins said the number of cancer survivors continues to increase and the program is “exactly what we need.”
Haff, who admitted the program is a liberal idea for someone who is conservative, hopes the idea gains traction.
“Maybe everyone in the middle can come together and see this is a valid idea,” he said.
The Government Operations Committee discussed the idea Monday and Haff, Yattow, County treasurer Al Nolette and Greenwich Supervisor Sara Idelman were asked to work on the concept and come back with a proposal.