|County officials face more than $9 million in delinquent taxes|
|Written by Todd Mishler/Walworth County Sunday|
|Friday, 09 December 2011 11:40|
Walworth County Treasurer Kathy DuBois works in her office last week. The tasks of tracking and collecting delinquent property taxes falls to her office. Although the amount of overdue taxes has stayed fairly steady recently, tax delinquency in the county has more than doubled since 2007. Terry Mayer/staff photo.
ELKHORN — A painfully sluggish economy, weak real estate market and stubborn unemployment rate, which has dipped only 0.2 percent during the last year, continue to create a troublesome combination in Walworth County.
So, it’s not difficult to understand why, as County Administrator Dave Bretl pointed out in a recent blog post, the amount of outstanding taxes and the number of properties that are tax delinquent have more than doubled since 2007.
That doesn’t bode well for struggling residents as they wait for their 2011 property tax bills to arrive before Christmas.
Walworth County’s overall shortfall has dropped from $9.36 million in October 2009 to $9.29 million in October 2011, but remains stubbornly high.
On the positive side of the ledger, the total tax roll in 2009 was nearly $264 million but went up to more than $271.5 million in 2010, an increase of 2.87 percent.
Regardless, those statistics always are on the minds of county officials as they go through their annual budgetary process. However, the day-to-day task of tracking the numbers, collecting/distributing the revenues and sending out notices falls to County Treasurer Kathy DuBois and her staff.
“We run monthly reports, and it’s stayed pretty steady,” DuBois said of the unpaid taxes. “But we’re all concerned about delinquent taxes and what effect they play on the county.”
Dale Knapp is research director with the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. He said it’s tough to determine how big the problem is around the state.
“There is no state database on delinquent taxes, so we really can’t get a handle on how pervasive it is,” Knapp said. “I would expect, given the number of foreclosures and the general state of the economy, that delinquent property taxes are a problem. We just don’t know how much or which part of the state is doing better or worse than other parts.”
Nicole Anderson is the deputy county administrator for finance and assesses the situation from more of a big-picture mode.
“I don’t want to minimize this, because when taxes aren’t paid it’s a concern, and people are having difficult times during this economy,” Anderson said. “But we’ve established policies and maintained minimum fund balances in Walworth County that have helped us withstand the peaks and valleys.
“Delinquent taxes continue to be a problem, but it’s more of a cash flow issue,” she added. “It’s a rolling number, because we receive combined revenues from different years. So, from our perspective, in some way, shape or form, the taxes get paid off and the county is made whole.”
But for individual property and business owners, it’s a major worry that’s been compounded during the past several years.
Joe Schaefer has been on the Walworth County Board of Supervisors since 1974 and serves District 2. He knows firsthand what many other residents are going through.
“Because of the economy, many people are struggling to survive, and that makes it tough to pay their property taxes,” said Schaefer, who owns the Ye Olde Hotel in Lyons. “As a small business owner, I’m in the same boat.
“I don’t know what we’d do without Dave Bretl,” Schaefer added of the latter’s leadership in traversing the current economic minefield. “He’s laid everything out and made it a lot easier for the county board.”
Meanwhile, delinquent property taxes are charged interest and penalties at a rate of 1.5 percent per month on the unpaid tax owed, beginning Feb. 1 and until paid in full. All delinquent property taxes are payable to the county treasurer’s office. If property taxes are delinquent for two or more years, the property is subject to foreclosure.
In January, municipalities submit what they’ve collected from all taxing jurisdictions — city, village or town; school districts; Gateway Technical College District etc. — from December and do the same in February for monies that come in by the Jan. 31 deadline.
The county takes over collection and sends out delinquent notices to all new parties on the list as well as to those with outstanding taxes from previous years.
Dan Thompson, executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, said it can be an unforgiving process.
“The fact is that municipalities aren’t directly involved in or impacted by tax delinquencies, because we report them to the county, which then pays all of the towns, villages and cities back,” Thompson said. “The nightmare is actually when you have to foreclose on properties and try to recoup those unpaid taxes by selling the properties.”
In August, the county pays back funds to all jurisdictions and in September, it sends out tax certificates.
In September 2010, county officials ordered 407 title searches and filed 176 of those parcels with the court, the most ever. In the end, the county took ownership of 38 of those properties, and as of early this week, had sold all but 11 of them.
This past year it ordered 438 more title searches and nearly 90 of the delinquent amounts had been paid off.
“People can make payments right up until the title actually transfers, but that doesn’t stop the process,” DuBois said, regardless of how much is still owed. “We really try to work with and talk to people and get their issues resolved, because we don’t like to see them in this position.”
|Last Updated on Friday, 09 December 2011 11:58|