Compassionate Relief Assistance Program

• JON ALEXANDER — Post Star Newspaper 7/19/13

FORT EDWARD — Washington County supervisors might soon cover a year’s worth of property taxes for local residents who lost their jobs or experienced financial hardship because of a serious illness.

Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff introduced the Compassionate Relief Assistance Program, or CRAP, at Friday’s monthly meeting of the county Board of Supervisors.

“This could give some kind of short-term, compassionate relief,” Haff said, noting that his plan’s acronym might need some work. “I think I can come up with something better.”

It would be paid for by proceeds from the county’s annual foreclosure auction, potentially $50,000 similar to the county’s recently adopted brownfields cleanup fund. The county made more than $400,000 in last month’s foreclosure auction.

The county can foreclose on a property-owner if three years of taxes go unpaid, under state law. Haff’s proposal would pay the first year’s county taxes after diagnosis of anyone who was gainfully employed prior to becoming ill.

Most hospitals have staff who negotiate with the cancer patients creditors’ because the afflicted so often go from gainfully employed to out-of-work upon diagnosis, according to Vickie Yattaw, a resource navigator at Glens Falls Hospital’s C.R. Wood Cancer Center.

Three Washington County residents told her within the last six months that they couldn’t pay their taxes because they could no longer work, Yattaw said.

Haff’s proposal sprang from discussions with Yattaw, a Hartford resident.

“I can work with the creditors, I can write grants for medical bills, utilities and even food, but there’s nothing I can do right now about county taxes,” Yattaw said following the board’s meeting.

Properly vetting potential recipients of the aid could pose an issue, some supervisors said.

Haff countered that allowing local goodwill organizations, Community Action Angels and hospital staff with access to patients’ financial records to administer the program would assure applicants are properly vetted before receiving the funding aimed at keeping the sick out of government foreclosure.

“In my opinion, we should just be the bank and let Action Angels administer it,” said county Treasurer Al Nolette, when asked what oversight guidelines the county should put in place if the program is adopted.

“If you look at The Post-Star, you’ll see there are more and more cancer victims in this county, said Cambridge Supervisor William Watkins, a brain cancer survivor. “This is exactly what we need.”

Hampton Supervisor Dave O’Brien worried the program assumes constant positive revenues from county tax auctions.

The program would be for any serious illness, not only cancer.

Haff is traditionally the county board’s most conservative member. He noted that his proposal was more in the traditional wheelhouse of Greenwich Supervisor Sara Idleman, a Democrat.

“Maybe everyone else in the middle will see this is a valid proposal,” he said.

CRAP will be initially discussed at Monday’s meeting of the county board’s Government Operations Committee. It will come up again later this month at the Human Services Committee, supervisors said.

“There are a lot of details involved,” said Granville Supervisor Matt Hicks, chairman of the Government Operations Committee. “But I think it has some merit.”