It’s the tax man

LISBON – If you owe delinquent property taxes you may want to pay up before the county hires a tax collection agency.

Columbiana County Treasurer Linda Bolon told county commissioners last week she is contemplating contracting with a company to pursue the county’s long-term property tax delinquencies.

“It’s just another tool in the tool box to help clean up these delinquencies,” Bolon told commissioners.

Tax delinquencies totaled $11 million when Bolon took office in January 2013, which she managed to reduce to $10 million by sending out warning letters to property owners advising them they had 30 days to pay up or enter into a payment plan. Those who failed to do so are referred to the county prosecutor’s office to begin foreclosure proceedings, a slow process that can often take years to conclude.

Bolon was looking for a quicker, more efficient alternative when she heard about Tax Ease Ohio LLC, which is used by at least 24 other Ohio counties. The way it works is the county would sell its delinquent properties as a bundle through a tax lien sale. The successful bidder would pursue the delinquent taxes, with property owners being allowed up to one year to pay their delinquent taxes, along with interest of up to 18 percent, fees and penalties. After one year the company could initiate foreclosure proceedings.

“It’s basically like a collection agency,” she said.

Bolon intends to meet with Tax Ease in May and expects to be in a position to hold a tax lien sale in 2015. She said only chronic long-term, hard-to-collect delinquent properties would likely be included in the tax lien sale, and her office will continue to work at getting as many property owners on payment plans as possible.

“This will not mean every single property will be included in the tax lien sale,” Bolon said. “We’ll have to analyze it on a case-by-case basis.”

The money received from the tax lien sale is then distributed by the treasurer’s office to local governments according to what each is owed.

Bolon recognizes that times are still tough and some people are struggling, but the problem is that for every $1 million in back taxes collected, about the same amount in new delinquencies occurs.

“It’s impossible to keep up with it with such a limited staff,” she said.

Bolon said to let this continue is unfair to not only those who pay their property taxes but local entities that rely on the taxes as a source of operating income, especially school districts, which receive 70 percent of all property taxes.

“We try to work with people by offering them payment plans, but we have to do this. It’s our responsibility” to collect delinquent taxes, Bolon said.

At one time only the five most populous Ohio counties were allowed to hold tax lien sales, but Bolon said she helped change the law while in the state legislature so now every county can participate if they choose.