Number of delinquent taxpayers down for 2009
Hubbard County has fewer delinquent taxpayers for its 2009 payable taxes, but those amounts are slightly higher than past years.
Delinquent taxpayers on a list published this spring include a high figure of $82,285.20 past due on property in Farden Township to as little as $2.20 owed by a Lakeport Township widow.
Taxpayers are forking over the money to pay their taxes because the county sees relatively few actual forfeitures and none last year.
"I don't foresee a lot of forfeitures this year either because most of the people on our list have contacted us and one way or the other are making arrangements," said Hubbard County Auditor Pam Heeren.
"The forfeiture list started out with 26 parcels but several of those have already paid up for 2004 taxes," she said.
A typical forfeiture takes about seven years. Five of those are the years a property owner is delinquent paying taxes; the remaining one to two years is the legal process the county must go through to actually seize property.
Seizures are rare but do occur.
"It's just a matter of them... maybe they don't want the property anymore, maybe it was something they inherited and don't use, maybe they can't afford it, can't sell it," Heeren speculated as to the reasons.
"With land values you wonder why anything forfeits," said Hubbard County Land Commissioner Bob Hansen. "You'd think they'd sell it for something."
Actually, they do, Heeren said. "Maybe rather than losing it completely they're making arrangements with buyers to lower the price but pay the taxes up instead," she said. "We have people call and ask all the time, 'What can I do with this?' It's up to them really."
Hubbard County manages 137,000 acres of forfeited land, Hoffman said.
"Most of these properties were forfeited back in the 30s and 40s," he said. "A lot of them were big timber companies that actually harvested all the timber. They just let them go forfeit" when the companies went belly up.
"We manage it for timber, wildlife and recreation," Hoffman said. "Most of it is large blocks of public land that was forfeited many years ago.
"The small parcels that are not conducive to managing, we sell those on the auction. There are very few any more," Hoffman said.
Those managed lands get some revenue sharing compensation under a program called Payments in Lieu of Taxes.
"Including our public hunting grounds we got $716,000 and change for 2009," Heeren said.
Payments in Lieu of Taxes are state payments to local governments that help offset losses in property taxes due to nontaxable state lands within their boundaries. There is also a federal PILT program to compensate states for managing federal lands.
Since public lands don't pay property taxes the in-lieu payments theoretically compensate counties for that revenue loss.
And if state budget cutting continues to whittle away at PILT monies, the county could be compensated less and less for those lands, spreading the tax burden to residents.
Despite the tough economic climate in the Hubbard County economy, Heeren doesn't foresee a wave of forfeitures in six years.
"Most of the forfeitures are doing a confession of judgment or selling them and somebody's paying up the taxes or whatever," Heeren said.
With a confession of judgment the property owner legally concedes he or she owes the money and sets up a 10-year payment plan to bring the deficiencies current.
"It's a solution," Heeren said. "It's not a great solution because you're paying a penalty on top of it and there are some requirements that you can't miss payments and you can't let your taxes go delinquent."
Nevertheless, Heeren said tough times don't necessarily forecast forfeitures.
"It hard to say (if there will be a wave in six years) but our delinquent rate is not any higher than it has been," she said. "I think we had seven more parcels on our delinquent tax list than we did last year. The amounts were higher but the number of them isn't. I think it's taking them longer to pay their taxes but I don't know that we're gong to see a lot more forfeitures."