MOUNT VERNON — Each November, the News publishes a list of delinquent property taxpayers in Knox County, and the amount of money those taxpayers owe the county.
As the second half deadline for property taxes draws near — June 25 for those about to put checks in the mail — the News asked Knox County Treasurer Sandra Mizer and Knox County Auditor Jonette Curry some questions about the numbers on that list, the way delinquent taxes are collected in the county, and the effects the sum of delinquent tax dollars have on county programs and agencies which rely on tax money to remain in operation.
Curry and Mizer estimate the amount of delinquent property taxes owed the county at approximately $2 million.
“That would have been roughly the dollar amount in November,” Curry said. “But not the amount that was printed [in the paper].”
Curry explained that foreclosures, bankruptcies, delinquencies currently in payment plans, and overdue tax bills which total less than $1, are not included in the printed list, but are part of the $2 million figure.
Schools are at the top of the list of the agencies and programs that are not receiving the money.
“Schools are certainly the biggest number,” Mizer said. “We give a ballpark of between 75 and 85 percent of that total.”
Mizer and Curry said they do not have a way to break down how much each individual district is owed due to the differing calculation rates for each overdue tax bill. Calculations depend on what school district, fire and EMS district the taxpayer lives within.
Licking County Treasurer Mike Smith said a new software program Licking County uses can provide such a breakdown; the numbers owed to Licking County schools range from a few thousand dollars, to $715,050.90 — the current delinquent sum owed to the Granville school district.
Mizer said during her 13 years in office she has seen overdue taxes remain a difficult problem for the county to deal with.
She said the current difficult economic times mean taxpayers from all walks of life can find themselves struggling when the tax bill comes due every six months.
“I think it is across the board,” she said of the delinquency problem.
She added that when taxpayers are hesitant to discuss the problem with her office and their mortgage company, the problem quickly grows into one which is less and less manageable.
“They’ve got to talk to us and understand what happens next,” Mizer said. “I don’t want them to be afraid to call us, or their mortgage company.”
Taxpayers who do call the treasurer’s office to inquire about their options will learn there are possible ways to resolve the situation without losing their home or ending up in legal trouble.
Mizer said a payment plan is an option.
“I try to do a payment plan that pays off their delinquent taxes in two years,” she said, adding that the payment plan is a serious matter which the taxpayers need to remember is a legal contract to pay their obligation. “My payment plan with individuals is they have to pay their current half tax.”
In other words, while paying on their delinquent taxes, taxpayers are expected to remain current on the taxes which come due while the payment plan is in effect.
“If they default on their payment plan, then right away I can take action against them,” Mizer said, adding that is a sometimes necessary action she does not prefer. “We don’t want to foreclose or put people out of their homes.”
She said she and her staff are willing to work with people on a case by case basis.
“We take things into consideration,” she said.
Mizer suggested that those who find themselves in tax difficulties should contact their lender for possible solutions as well.
She said that because of the current low interest rates available, it is often possible to refinance a mortgage at a lower rate, which can provide money in the short term to pay the tax bill, and savings on the monthly mortgage payment in the long run.
Paying property taxes late will bring a 5 percent penalty within the first 10 days, according to Mizer, and a 10 percent penalty after that. There is also an additional interest charge if the bill is not paid by Nov. 1.
Mizer said the 5 and 10 percent penalties and the additional Nov. 1 charge are all set by the Ohio Revised Code, with no allowances for increases by individual counties.
Those who don’t pay by Nov. 1 also have their name added to the delinquent tax list, which is published in the local newspaper. This is also mandated by the ORC.
The foreclosure process is costly for the taxpayer and the treasurer’s office.
“It costs this department money to foreclose on people,” Mizer said.
When a taxpayer becomes 18 months behind, the foreclosure process can begin. Mizer said Knox County Prosecutor John Thatcher has made foreclosures one of the top focuses of his office.
“I commend John Thatcher for making this problem a top priority,” Mizer said. “He gives me the ability to do a lot with the delinquencies.”
Mizer said that although she doesn’t believe delinquencies have increased in recent years, she acknowledged the likelihood of foreclosure because of unpaid taxes has increased.
She said the money owed to the county is needed to make sure county agencies stay open and county programs continue.
“We are working on this problem,” she said. “Will we ever get it accomplished? I don’t know, but it’s a real focus of ours.”