County puts off taking tax deeds until 2014A change is looming for property owners who owe back taxes. Instead of taking tax deeds in October, Douglas County will take them in June.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
A change is looming for property owners who owe back taxes.
Instead of taking tax deeds in October, Douglas County will take them in June. Because there is not enough time to meet state statutes by June this year, the delinquent taxpayers owing for 2009 will get a “bye.” No tax deeds will be taken this year, according to County Treasurer Linda Helenius. Think of it as an extension, she said. But be aware: A double punch is in store next year. Both 2009 and 2010 taxes will be due in June 2014. Failure to pay both years will result in losing the property.
“The last thing we want to do is take somebody’s property, especially homes,” Helenius said. “We don’t want to take their house from them. That’s a last resort.”
The change was implemented so if a homeowner must be evicted, it can be done in the summer when the weather is not bad, according to County Clerk Sue Sandvick. It could also save the county on winterization costs for tax-forfeited properties.
“We just don’t want to evict people in winter time,” Helenius said.
Many property owners struggle to pay one year of delinquent taxes at a time.
“Trying to pay two years is going to be a burden, especially on people who are not pursing a payment plan” or making an effort to pay something toward what they owe, she said.
Payment plans were first offered through the county treasurer’s office in 2011. Today, 55 property owners have plans in place.
This is the second change in a row to the tax delinquent property process. This fall, the amount of time former owners had to repurchase property was shortened from six months to about two. The shortened timeline has allowed the county to deal with the properties more quickly and lessen the county’s liability exposure, according to Sandvick.
“From our standpoint, it’s a much smoother process,” she said.
Because of the new timeframe, delinquent tax properties will not be listed in the paper until late August and early September, Helenius said. Certified letters used to be sent out in May. They will be mailed to homeowners in November this year.
Douglas County takes properties that are four years tax delinquent, although state statute only requires that owners be two years behind on their tax bill for the county to repossess a property.
“We’re not in the business of taking property,” said Keith Allen, chairman of the Douglas County Board’s Land and Development Committee. “It’s just the due business of tax collection.”
Each year when the process starts, Helenius said, about 600 properties are listed as four years delinquent in Douglas County. That number remains fairly consistent irrespective of the state of the economy.
In 2012, the county took 37 tax deeds that were delinquent back to 2008. Nine of those were improved properties with homes on them.
To contact the county treasurer’s office about payment plans, call 715-395-1348 after Feb. 15. Property tax information is also available online at www.douglascountywi.org. On the services tab, scroll down to the property taxes link.