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County's past-due tax collections climb
Trinity Standard -
GROVETON – A more aggressive approach to collecting delinquent taxes owed to Trinity County is producing results, according to a report presented Monday to county commissioners. Tab Beall of the law firm Perdue, Brandon, Fielder, Collins and Mott told commissioners that during the last six months of 2012, his firm collected almost as much is the past-due taxes as it did during the previous 12-month period. With the encouragement of Greg Cook, the new chief appraiser for the Trinity County Appraisal District, Beall said his law firm is taking a much more aggressive attitude toward the collection process. During the six-month period from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2012, delinquent tax collections totaled $235,000, which almost equals the $237,000 total collections for the period of July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012. In his report to the commissioners, Beall noted that the county is currently owed almost $1.5 million in delinquent taxes dating back 20 years. To reduce that figures, Beall said his law firm is taking a higher number of property owners to court in order to either get the money owed or to seize their land. "We have been asked to get more aggressive and we are doing that. Litigation is now a reality for those who have not been paying their taxes," he said. During the past year, Beall said 108 lawsuits have been filed, including 45 tax warrants. He explained that while regular lawsuits will normally take a year to work their way through the legal process, tax warrants usually only take 90 days. To qualify for the tax warrant process, property of less than one acre must be delinquent for at least five years and must not be a qualified homestead. Beall said that in most cases, their owners have essentially abandoned these properties. At the end of the regular lawsuit or tax warrant process, if the property is seized for non-payment of taxes, it is owned by the county and the other taxing entities to which taxes are owed. It then goes up for sale on the courthouse steps and if no buyer is found willing to pay the past-due tax debt, it is held in trust until a buyer can be found. Beall noted one of the problems faced by Trinity County involve the large number of small, vacant lots contained in the Lake Livingston area subdivisions. In many instances, the owners no longer want the property and they cannot find buyers. When the lots are seized for the non-payment of taxes, quite often the amount of taxes owed is higher than the value of the land. In an effort to get these lots back on the tax roll, last year Beall's firm conducted as "liquidation sale" in which it accepted any bid offered on the seized lots. Some of the bids were as low as $10 or $25. "The county is not in the real estate business so we're doing everything we can to get these lots into the hands of people who will pay the taxes," he said. When asked if there were plans to do another liquidation sale, Beall said while they might consider it in five years down the road, they have no plans to do another right now. "These is not something we are going to do on a regular basis," Beall said. "If we did it every year, no one would bid during the sales on the courthouse steps. They'd all wait for the liquidation sale." During the liquidation sale last year, he said there were 413 properties up for grabs and that 93 bids were received from 32 different bidders. He noted that more than 200 of the lots up for sale were in the Westwood Shores subdivision but only 24 were sold. Beall attributed the lack of sales in Westwood to the fees charged by the subdivision. He noted that even if a bidder purchased a lot for $10 during the liquidation sale, they would owe and additional $1,250 in property owner association and country club fees. "Those fees work against us in Westwood Shores and makes it hard to sell some of these properties," Beall said. Beall noted while his firm is aggressively seeking to collect the old tax bills, they are still willing to work with those who are having financial difficulties. Taxpayers having problems can set up payment plans, but Beall noted that the length of time they would be granted to retire the debt would be limited. Other business In other business during the meeting, commissioners: • Received information from Larry Grant of Trinity County Crime Stoppers, Inc., regarding the Jan. 26 fundraising gala planned at the Trinity Veterans of Foreign Wars Post. Grant noted the January is national Crime Stoppers Month and as part of that observance, the local group would be honoring all local law enforcement officers during the annual gala. • Approved a right-of-way easement allowing the City of Groveton to lay a new water line across a county-owned parking lot located immediately east of the Trinity County Courthouse Annex in Groveton. • Approved refunds for erroneous or excessive tax payments to Hutson Abstract Co. of Groveton for $572.19 and to Huntsville Abstract Co. for $989.43. • Approved an agreement with Betty Sue Wright allowing Precinct 4 road and bridge work crews to enter her property while working along the Moore Cemetery Road at Spur 357. • Approved the payment of $500 each for pauper funeral burials for Thomas E. Wright and Willie Simpson. • Reappointed the members to the Trinity County Historical Commission to new two-year terms.