If you’re a homeowner paying a lot in property taxes, it is frustrating to hear about foreign countries skipping out on thousands of dollars in tax obligations (and, in one case, hundreds of thousands of dollars). The news is even more upsetting at at time when the City is scrounging for every nickel.
So when the Journal News published a couple of lengthy articles concerning taxes owed by diplomatic properties in New Rochelle and other communities in the region, I wasn’t surprised to receive several angry calls and emails from incensed taxpayers, demanding that the City collect what’s due.
Amen. If it were within our power to collect these taxes, the Council would do so unanimously and without delay. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. The taxable status of diplomatic properties is determined by New York State law, international agreements, and the courts. You can learn more in this memorandum from Finance Commissioner Howard Rattner concerning a home owned by the Republic of Cameroon.
The City Council declined the Commissioner’s concluding suggestion that we cancel the taxes owed on the Cameroon property, because we want to give diplomatic pressure an opportunity to work and because it’s always possible that some future change in law will enable us to collect the payments due. But, to be realistic, the probability of success is low.
On balance, I am glad to have diplomats living in New Rochelle. It adds to the diverse, international flavor of our community, and, in most cases, the nations involved have been respectful of the law and of their neighbors. But the few problems can really stick in our craw.