Rochester, N.Y. – Local suburbs will be paid back nearly $1 million after the Monroe County Clerk says an error incorrectly diverted those funds to the City of Rochester.
Monroe County Clerk Adam Bello announced Thursday the electronic filing system used to collect mortgage taxes and redistribute them to towns was flawed, allegedly giving funds meant for the suburbs to the city.
At a news conference, he said the system was “designed, almost, to fail.”
Mortgage taxes are fees collected upon the recording of a new mortgage – and are distributed to towns where those mortgages have been signed.
“The system I inherited had alarming flaws in both design and procedure,” Bello said. “The design flaw led to the submission of thousands of mortgages whose locations were incorrectly attributed to the City of Rochester, thereby allocating those mortgage tax dollars to the city, as opposed to the proper town and/or village where the mortgage property is located.”
Bello says his office was contacted by the City of Rochester about the error. He said the error has been fixed, and funds will be distributed to the proper towns.
“I used to be a town supervisor, and this is a lot of funds that would’ve come to the town,” said Bello, “which is why this is troubling that this happened in the first place.”
The system, Bello said, was set up in 2015 and the error was never noticed because there were no audits. Bello said the system went into effect in 2015, when his predecessor, current Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo, was serving as clerk.
“In their haste to roll out a new electronic recording system, the previous administration created a system that, by its very nature, was recording mistakes,” Bello said. “If the checks and balance procedures for mortgages recorded in person were in place for the electronic system, this problem never would have happened. This error almost cost local governments hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
“Since I was appointed clerk in 2016, I’ve been shocked at some of the issues I’ve uncovered,” he added. “Whether it’s been illegal fee waivers, the shelving of pistol permit opt-out forms, or the over-collection of closing fees, we’ve taken steps to correct longstanding problems.”
It should be noted Bello is running against Dinolfo this election cycle for the county executive’s office.
A representative for Dinolfo said it is not clear what, if any, flaw was in the system – and that the current county clerk is wrongfully trying to shift blame to his election opponent.
“County Clerk Bello admitted today that all of these mistakes took place between 2016 and present,” said Jesse Sleezer, Monroe County Director of Communications and spokesperson for County Executive Dinolfo. “That’s another way of saying that nearly all of these mistakes occurred on his watch. It’s also important to remember that this is not the first the first time that the county clerk has been caught making a mistake, and he’s blamed it on everyone else but himself."
“The simple truth is that, unless he’s willing to take responsibility for his own failures, then he’s simply not ready to lead the office he leads now, or any other office for that matter," Sleezer added.
Sleezer called on Bello to apologize to taxpayers for the error not being found sooner.
Bello says he has contacted the New York State Comptroller’s Office, pushing for the state to come in and perform a full audit of his office.