Hill County to crack down on deliquent taxpayers
Some people are about to receive a new notice that their Hill County taxes are due, with some severe consequences possible if they don't make good on their obligation.
County officials agreed Tuesday to change a tradition in the county and will send letters notifying delinquent taxpayers their 2010 bill is due by the end of June or property could be seized or a tax certificate sale held on real estate.
"We have a lot of concerns about our delinquent taxes that are affecting the operation of the public schools and the county and the city," Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said at the start of the meeting.
The county reports nearly $1.3 million is due in past taxes.
"It's a lot of dollars," Commissioner Jeff LaVoi said.
About $1.1 million on the total is in taxes due on real property. Of that, $930,758.89 is in taxes due this year on real estate in taxes alone — including penalties and interest.
Hill County Treasurer Sandy Brown said the total in past due taxes includes more than $66,000 on mobile homes and nearly $50,000 in personal property — including penalties and interest.
The group agreed one focus in changing the procedure should be to make sure people know services throughout the county — schools, law enforcement, fire departments, public works, water services and streets, all local services — are impacted by the shortfall in tax payments.
"I wish people would know what they are getting for their taxes," LaVoi said.
Havre Public Schools Superintendent Andy Carlson said he believed the district was running all right at the moment even with the shortage of tax payments, but that he would do some additional research on the impact.
Ken Halverson, superintendent of North Star Schools, said the shortage was not having a severe impact on his district. The shortage, about $8,000 in his district, is not a major percentage of his budget, he said.
The change in policy will be to collect on taxes for this year. The county policy traditionally has been to give a year or two before starting active collection procedures, but the officials Tuesday agreed to focus on current year's taxes immediately.
Deputy Hill County Attorney Kris Hansen told the group that taxes are due 30 days after the first notice of the amount due is received by the property owner. After that, the taxes are delinquent.
"So we can start collections right now," she said.
Hansen recommended the county begin drafting a courtesy letter for all property owners with delinquent 2010 taxes, hopefully to be sent off by the end of this week.
The letter will inform delinquent taxpayers that if their bill is not paid by June 30, the sherrif could start seizing real property, to be sold to pay the delinquent taxes.
People delinquent on real estate taxes could have their 2010 tax bill put up for a certificate sale on July 21. If someone pays the delinquent taxes, the property owner would have three years to pay them back, plus interest and late fees, and redeem the certificate. If the owner doesn't buy the certificate back, the person can take the real estate.
Havre Mayor Tim Solomon suggested the courtesy letter also tell the delinquent taxpayers that other actions could happen if the collections process is unsuccessful, including the potential of eventually printing the names of delinquent taxpayers in the local newspapers.
Jason Boggess of the state Department of Revenue said taking direct action can have a major impact on reducing delinquent taxes.
"I think the first couple of times you do a tax certificate sale, people will be Johnny-on-the-spot with their taxes," he said.
Boggess said additional action also can be taken on personal property on which taxes are due. The tax lien could be attached to real estate also owned by the person with taxes due, he said. That could put additional pressure for property owners to pay their taxes due, he said.
Boggess said he would do some additional research on what property could be attached to the taxes due.
He said another benefit could be to make sure questionable mobile homes are assessed. Some mobile homes that essentially are derelict could still be on the tax rolls, increasing the expected income. If the homes are assessed as nonlivable, with a $5 tax due rather than hundreds, it could give the local governments a more realistic estimate of income available, Boggess said.
The action is coming just months after the county found another problem in taxes. Assessments for some school revenues had been left off of statements sent out last fall. The county sent another set of assessments including the additional amounts in February.
Brown said that most local taxpayers made quick work of paying those assessments.