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Delinquent taxes appear poised to continue a trend and rise again this year – and there’s not necessarily a lot the county can do about it, according to Ray County Collector Margie Bowman.
Her calculations this past April – which includes tax bills as recent as 2007 – showed 700 total individual parcels with unpaid real estate taxes, a 100-parcel increase from the year before and the latest in a rising trend. Those parcels include any parcels with ongoing delinquent taxes from years up to and including 2007.
Broken down individually, she has 509 parcels with delinquent 2007 tax bills and 232 delinquent 2006 parcels. That makes 358 bills from 2008 alone, she said.
Bowman believes it has nothing to do with people who don’t want to pay their taxes – it’s an effect with causes rooted in a wave of foreclosures and an unstable economy. What’s worse, she indicated the state of the economy makes it increasingly difficult for the county to make a return selling delinquent properties, since there’s no guarantee every property will sell at auction.
Last year, Bowman counted less than 20 properties that received bidders.
“Tax sales are no fun, and they’re not a good investment,” she explained. “If it is redeemed, you get very little money in return for what you’ve put into (the house). If it’s a surplus bid above what the taxes are, you get no interest on that at all. It’s a no-win situation.”
The County is left with few avenues for recourse. Bowman said she makes every effort to keep holders of delinquent properties abreast of their tax bill’s balance and keep track of the owners’ contact information. But unlike the case with personal property taxes, for which owners need to show a receipt to receive a car license, Bowman said there just isn’t much beyond auctioning off someone’s home to motivate people to pay.
“I don’t think it’s that they don’t want to pay their taxes, I think they get out of the loop with all the paperwork,” Bowman said. “It’s just a process of how the statutes read it: if you have delinquent taxes, this is what you do . . . People know when they purchase property they have taxes to pay. It’s personally up to the taxpayer.”
Still, Ray County itself weathers the storm by rooting its tax base in its sales taxes. However, road, school and hospital districts that count on that revenue stream do take a hit.
It will take a bounce in the economy in general and the housing market to turn the trend around, Bowman said.
“The mortgage companies are selling from one mortgage company to another mortgage company and they’re not getting the taxes paid in all the changing-of-hands,” Bowman said. “There are some taxpayers who, probably, this is the first time they’ve been delinquent.”
It’s not a job Bowman enjoys at all. It doesn’t create more work for Bowman necessarily. She said she’s got the auction list “Down to an art,” in terms of getting it in on time each year. But still, she doesn’t look forward to offering someone’s home for sale.
“The last thing I really want to do is sell somebody’s house,” Bowman said. “It’s the part of the job I enjoy the least, is the tax sale.”