County Treasure Considers Plan For Dealing With Tax Delinquency

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Athens County Treasurer Bill Bias is considering action that could result in the county being compensated for millions of dollars in unpaid taxes.

The idea is that the county would sell its tax liens to an outside company that would pay the county an amount equal to the taxes owed. It would then be up to the company, TAXease, to resolve the debt with the property owners.

On Tuesday, Bias and a representative of TAXease met with the county commissioners to describe the program. It would be Bias who would sign a contract with the company, so Tuesday's meeting was intended to make the commissioners aware of what is being considered.

"I'm feeling very, very positive about using this tool," Bias said. "I'm leaning in that direction."

The county currently is owed in excess of $7 million in delinquent real estate taxes, interest and penalties, plus unpaid trailer taxes.

Bias said that over the past several years the unpaid amount has been growing, largely because of mounting interest and penalties.

Not all of the more than $7 million would be part of a tax lien sale. Some accounts may be deemed uncollectible, and others might not be worth pursuing. Dawn Hoosier of TAXease cited abandoned and blighted property as an example of a type for which a tax lien would not be sold.

Also, some property owners might opt to pay their taxes rather than have it go through a tax lien sale.

According to Hoosier, the process would call for Bias to send out notices to property owners that their properties are being considered for a tax lien sale. She said that past experience has shown that the warnings result in many property owners paying their tax bills without the property going through the lien sale.

Once a tax lien sale takes place, the company files a lien on the property, then tries to work out a plan with each property owner to make payments to the company to settle the debt, Hoosier explained. TAXease makes money from the interest charged on the outstanding balances owed. She said the company rarely ends up foreclosing on a property.

Commissioner Charlie Adkins asked if the same result could be accomplished without going to an outside company.

Bias said his office already offers payment plans. Taking further action against those who still don't pay would flood the county prosecutor's office with tax cases, and also incur costs, Bias said. It becomes a matter of priorties for the prosecutor's office — pursuing tax foreclosures or criminal cases, Bias indicated.

"This (tax lien sale) process should be completely free to the county," Hoosier said.

"If we do nothing, what we have now is going to continue to grow and snowball," Bias said.

Hoosier said TAXease currently works with 31 Ohio counties.

Bias said he plans to decide in the next few days whether to sign a contract with the company.

Bias said he also is considering a longer-term project — creating a land bank. It is a process by which grants can be obtained to demolish blighted property for which delinquent taxes are owed.