This article is going to be a bit more on the editorial side of things rather than just presenting facts. If you disagree with me, feel free to let me have it in the comments below. If you want to get these articles via email when they are published, click here.
I find it fascinating and disheartening the way people are responding to the current property tax issues. In particular it is amazing to see what people are upset about. 90% of the things people are acting upset about are the inconsequential, based on misunderstanding the law or trivial.
For example, I’ve heard many people express anger that anyone was able to be put on a payment plan if they were unable to make full payment on their taxes.
Who in their right mind would be upset about this? If someone can’t pay all of their taxes, isn’t in the best interest of everyone to let them give the county the money they have and try to get them on a plan to pay it off? Imagine you run a business and someone owes you $1,000.
Debtor: I don’t have the $1000, but I have $100 in my pocket. Can I give you that toward what I owe?
You: No you either pay it all or none of it.
Debtor: Are you sure? It may be a long time before I have $1,000 together. Can’t I give you what I have so I’m at least making progress on it and I don’t spend it somewhere else?
You: No. I either want all what you owe or none of it.
Sounds crazy doesn’t it. Yet, this is exactly what some people are calling for. I can’t figure out why. If someone is in financial trouble now, they may be in more financial trouble later. What the treasurer’s office was doing was actually even better. When someone couldn’t pay their taxes, they would give the tax payer a “coupon book” like what mortgage companies used to give you so you’d know how much needed to be paid at the end of each month. As a citizen who lives in Bourbon county, this is exactly what I want my elected officials doing–making it as easy as possible for someone who owes money to get it paid off.
I’ve seen some people claiming that this cost the county thousands of dollars, when in fact the opposite is probably true. Even if the property did eventually go up for sale, any amount collected was probably more than if the county had refused to take anything less than payment of the full amount.
Now, not listing the names of people on the payment plan in the paper was a mistake. However, that is the type of thing that should be assumed to be an honest mistake until you have some pretty strong evidence to the contrary.
Part of the problem is that many of the people who seem the most angry about things, don’t understand how the law works in the first place. Let’s say you have your income taxes done by an accounting firm. If you feel your taxes are too high, would you be mad at the accounting firm? Would you run around and tell all your friends that you need to get a new accounting firm because you don’t like the tax rate mandated by the federal government? No. Of course not. Well, that is what some people are doing regarding the property tax procedures.
I’ve seen a lot of people upset with the treasurer because there are people who consistently pay their tax bill just before the property goes to a tax sale. This is like getting mad at the accounting firm over your tax bracket. It isn’t in their hands. State law determines how late you can pay your taxes, not the treasurer.
Then there are the people who have the law backwards and are mad because they want the treasurer’s office to do the opposite of what the law says.
What I am wondering is that since the County Treasurer was not following the law when she allowed those on the “Friends & Family” payment plan to pay the taxes from the bottom up thus allowing them to avoid the tax sale and not pay in full as the law was written to provide for, will all of those people who owe taxes beginning in 2007 or earlier and not paid by auction day be on the auction? ~ Comment on Topix
The law is pretty specific that you can consistently be behind on your taxes if you choose. (Although various counties are confused about it and even the Treasure’s Association has it wrong on their website.) New payments are applied to the oldest bill first. (Johnson County is the legal the exception to this.) The funny thing about this comment is that in a few cases Bourbon County has allowed people to pay off more recent tax bill before paying an older bill. The only real benefit would be if someone wanted to keep their name out of the paper for the current year–of course if they didn’t pay the older tax bill, their name would go in the paper when it was time for the tax sale anyway. So the actual mistakes that the treasurer’s office made in this regard were doing what this particular comment suggests they want to see happen all the time.
My point is, that if you are someone who really wants to get angry about something, at least don’t be completely irrational about it. If you don’t like state law, don’t get angry at county elected officials. And once you’ve made sure that your anger is actually headed in the right direction, make sure you aren’t being petty about trivial mistakes. I’m not saying to ignore mistakes. By all means bring them up so they can be corrected, but there is no sense giving yourself an ulcer over it.
Just to make things easy, here are a list of things, that are irrational to be angry about when it comes to local county government:
- The fact that delinquent taxpayers are allowed make partial payments.
- The fact that some people are consistently behind on their taxes.
- The fact that the treasurer is legally allowed to be behind on her taxes just like everyone else.
- The order that payments are legally supposed to be applied.
If you are angry about any of these things, you need to take them up with the state government because it isn’t something that is controlled locally.
Here are some things that you could be angry about that aren’t completely irrational, but tend a bit toward the silly side of things. If you think you’d be happier with the way a different treasurer handled these things, that is what elections are for.
- The fact that the computer systems used in the treasurer’s office doesn’t seem to make it easy to really keep track of what exactly has been paid or how it was applied. This is really causing a lot of trouble and expense and needs to be fixed, but isn’t anger worthy.
- The fact that people who were on the payment plan didn’t have their names printed in the paper. Personally I think this should just be considered a mistake at this point, but it was a local mistake so it isn’t completely unreasonable to get upset about.
- The fact that there was a mistake in the way the interest was calculated on the treasurer’s taxes in 2005–something she fixed when it was brought to her attention. (Now if you believe this was intentional, it doesn’t fall into the silly category.)
- The fact that some payments have been applied in the wrong order.
Here are some things that have been alleged, that might be good reasons to get upset if they are proven to be true and intentional:
- If some people on the payment plan had their name printed in the paper and others in the same situation didn’t in ways that weren’t just a simple mistake.
- If some people were offered the payment plan, while others in the same situation were told they had to pay all of it or none of it.
- If there are many significant errors in the fees and interest, particularly in ways that would provide personal benefit.
So far I haven’t seen anything that offers proof of anything on this last list and this is the list that would really matter. If I’m wrong, please leave a comment below to set me straight. This is what the auditor is checking on.
I’m all for transparency in government and I think it is great that people are looking through the county website and reading up on the legal statutes. This whole process has made me realize that we really have a long ways to go in making things more accessible. It isn’t that people are hiding information, it is just that it isn’t easy to access. If I had been able to download all of the tax information in a few spreadsheets, it would be very easy to show if there were any significant problems with the amounts people were paying in interest and fees.
I do think that our community is in a sorry state when we immediately assume malice on the part of our officials we elected–particularly when it is based on misunderstanding of the law or anger about things that aren’t even under local control. I’ve found that everyone at the court house has gone out of their way to answer questions, so if you see something that doesn’t seem right, go down and ask about it.