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The commission meeting this morning heard from many citizens concerned about the payment plan that was being offered for people who couldn’t afford to pay their property taxes. At the bottom of this page are a list of bullet points covering the facts about how various things are supposed to work.
The payment plan is a bit of a red herring because from a legal standpoint it does not allow anyone on it to do anything that a citizen could not do on their own. Even if you are on the payment plan, your name is required to be published in the paper and you are still responsible for all interest and penalties. The only thing the payment plan can do is help people schedule their payments. If the taxes have not been paid in full within three years, the property still must be sold at the sheriff’s sale. It doesn’t matter if it is on a payment plan or not.
If a payment plan is working as legally provided for, it allows the county to encourage people to make a series of smaller payments where they might put off making a large lump sum payment.
The real issue is whether or not people on the payment plan were given illegal preferential treatment. This would include:
- Not having their names published in the paper.
- Not being charged penalties and interest.
- Not having their property sold at a sheriff’s sale after being delinquent for 3 years.
While there have been allegations that his has occurred, nothing has been proven. Part of the problem seems to be that it is difficult to get records out of the computer system. Some people allege that the records were not kept according to standard accounting practice. It seems like it would take someone savvy with Excel less than an hour to verify that everything has been done correctly once they had access to the data in a reasonable form.
Leaving people off of the list published in the newspaper if they were on the payment plan was illegal, but it could have been due to an oversight. It appears that they were listed in previous years, so it may have been a simple mistake.
The only thing that seems odd about this, is that you’d expect a computer system that dumped out a list of everyone delinquent on their taxes to show everyone delinquent on their taxes and require extra manual work to remove a subset of those citizens. It this occurred, then it would be hard to say that it was just a mistake. On the other hand, it is possible that compiling the list of delinquent accounts is a very manual process. If so, it could easily have been that the people on a payment plan were in a different file drawer and it was an honest mistake.
The KBI and attorney general’s office have both been contacted and it appears that they are going to be looking into things. Terry Sercer from Diehl Banwart Bolton has performed a high level audit and said the totals look as would be expected. He recommended that an audit be performed in more detail and giving particular attention to the accounts that were under the payment plan.
When Terry Sercer first started to speak, a white haired man wearing overalls stood up and said:
“Who are you?!”
Terry tried to explain.
“What authority do you have over the commission?!!”
Terry tried to explain that his role was just to offer advice.
“Let me offer you some advice! Zip your pants!”
With that the man stormed out of the room. (This exchange isn’t a word for word quote, but it gives you pretty good idea.) I believe the mans name was Charles, but don’t know his last name.
Toward the end of the meeting the commission voted to authorize Terry to do as he recommended and look into things. He said he wouldn’t be able to start on it until Wednesday, but was going to try to give it some priority because of the importance.
I asked if the information he was going to be auditing was public record and was told yes. It should be available to anyone and while there might be some fee for making copies, anyone should be able to come in and ask to look at it. It was unclear if the information was available electronically or not.
What follows are some facts that were brought up in the meeting that might be of interest. If you have any corrections please post them in the comments.
Regarding the tax search information available here.
- The website that allows people to go in and research tax histories has been up and down due to some issues and upgrades with the provider. That software isn’t hosted locally and no one has been messing with it to cover stuff up.
- At one point the county would charge $60 per year for access to this information, but they are making the basic tax search available to everyone for free.
- There was a mistake a day or two ago that caused all the amounts to have the decimal place moved two places to the left. This should be fixed now.
As far as the payment plan goes, here is how they are supposed to work legally:
- The law allows the treasurer to create some type of payment plan. It doesn’t need to be a written policy.
- The payment plan does not do anything that you couldn’t do on your own. In other words if you owed $1,200 in taxes, you could come in and pay it $100 per month regardless of whether or not you had a “payment plan”.
- Even if you are on the payment plan, you must be treated just like any other delinquent account. The law only allows for partial payments to be made, but that does not change the status of the delinquent account.
- It is illegal to not charge interest to people on the payment plan.
- If taxes are being paid on a payment plan, it doesn’t change when the house would go to the sheriff sale.
- It would be illegal for the county to not sell a particular house just because it is on the payment plan.
- You have three years to pay your taxes before it is sold–regardless of whether or not you are on the payment plan.
- The commissioner’s do not have the authority to stop the plan or determine what the policy is. They can make recommendations and request information.
- The current payment plan has some type of contract associated with it that people signed agreeing to pay a certain amount every month.
- Any delinquent account should be charged interest. The rate was either 11% or 12%. It is unclear of this is compounding or just simple interest.
- There are fees associated with delinquent accounts as well. This includes the fee to help pay for publishing the list in the paper.
Regarding selling houses at a tax sale:
- Often selling property in a tax sale produces less income than the costs associated with holding the auction.
- Sometimes the county will decide not to hold a tax sale because it wouldn’t be worth the cost.
- Justin Meeks and Susan Quick both recommended that a tax sale not be held last year saying that it would cost more than it brought in.
- Tax liens — where the taxes are paid by an investor in return for a lien that accumulates interest on the property are not available in Kansas.
- Often the only advantage of selling a property at a sheriff’s sale is getting it into the hands of new owners who will pay taxes on it.
Regarding getting rid of an elected official:
- It is possible to do a recall election, but it would be expensive.
- There is a process to oust an elected official. This is legally refereed to as an ouster.
- There are certain crimes that will automatically oust an elected official.