Delinquent tax collection at $1 million

LISBON – Columbiana County Treasurer Linda Bolon said $1 million in delinquent property taxes have either been paid this year or will be as part of her office’s collection efforts.

“When I came into office (Jan. 1) it was $11 million, and we’ve been addressing this aggressively by sending out 30 to 50 letters per month and giving them 30 days to set up a payment plan or make full restitution,” she said.

Those who fail to do either will be referred to the county prosecutor’s office to begin the foreclosure process.

Bolon said when she left the treasurer’s office in 2007 after being elected state representative, delinquencies totaled $3 million, but the figure exploded after that, and she believes the 2007-2009 recession and foreclosure crisis were major reasons. She ran for her old job last year and won, replacing Nick Barborak, who was elected state representative.

The treasurer’s office published in the Morning Journal this week a list of new delinquent property taxes totaling $1.2 million owed for just this year, which is part of the $10 million in remaining delinquencies which date back more than one year.

The county is required by law to publish an annual list of those property owners behind on their real estate taxes, which is the first step that must occur before the prosecutor’s office can initiate foreclosure proceedings against those owners who fail to either become current or enter into a payment plan with the treasurer’s office.

Bolon recognizes that times are still tough, but people still have to pay their property taxes, 70 percent of which go to help fund schools in the county.

“I want to assure the public that we take these delinquent taxes seriously and we will follow the law in making every effort to collect those back taxes the school districts and local governments so desperately need,” she said.

For those delinquent properties where there is no chance of collection, Bolon is considering bundling those cases together and holding a tax lien auction, where a private collection agency could bid on those liens. The successful bidder would be free then to pursue collection of the delinquent taxes.

“It’s been something I’ve been reluctant to do, but if we have a difficult time collecting taxes in the routine way it might be something I’ll have to look at,” she said.

Another option under consideration is to take those foreclosed properties where the delinquency exceeds the real estate value and place them into a land bank, which is a program that allows counties or cities to take possession of abandoned properties and remarket it to developers or build public housing or parks on the parcel.

“It’s another tool in the toolbox we may have to use to deal with blighted properties,” Bolon said.