BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns is warning millions of dollars of delinquent property taxes could lead to abandoned properties across the county.

Kearns says Erie County could be on the verge of a zombie epidemic, with more than 13,000 properties delinquent on their property taxes, more than half of those are residential.

The county clerk is calling on county officials to take action.

Mickey Kearns has long slammed banks for creating dilapidated ‘zombie’ homes, foreclosing on the mortgages, and the owners abandoned them. Now with more than 13,000 properties behind on their taxes.

“We discovered a new type of zombie, a ‘tax zombie,’ and that is a property where the person falls behind on their taxes,” Kearns said.

Kearns and the Western New York Law Center have found those tax zombies are all across Erie County, amounting to more than $112 million in uncollected property taxes.

“And most of the time when you have a situation where a homeowner does not have mortgage, it is a home that has been owned by a family for generations. It is a senior that is living in that home,” said Kate Lockhart, WNY Law Center.

Charles Hark, a Korean War veteran, and his family used to live in that dilapidated house many years ago. They moved next door, and have watched it go deteriorate to the point it is uninhabitable.

“Yes, it is dangerous and these people here have kids that play out here. It should be torn down,” added Denise Perry, veteran’s daughter.

Kearns and Lockhart said county officials can take action to head off a potential disaster, first cutting the penalty on back taxes that stands at 18.5%.

“This is not an interest rate, it is a penalty tax,” said Kearns.

“And what we are asking of the county is to be more proactive when people are delinquent to prevent severe delinquencies where people could be in danger of losing their home,” Lockhart said.

How would the county compensate for cutting into that $112 million tax deficit?

Kearns insists the county can draw from American Rescue Plan funds which, he says, does allow for covering tax delinquencies.

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Al Vaughters is an award-winning investigative reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1994. See more of his work here. To submit a Call 4 Action, click here.