Kanawha County sees influx of back tax payments
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Since the delinquent tax lists for Kanawha County real estate were published, property owners have been flocking to the courthouse to pay their debts.
The Kanawha County Sheriff's Department tax office sees a marked increase in the number of people who settle with the county once their names have appeared in local newspapers, Chief Tax Deputy Allen Bleigh said.
This round of delinquent tax list publications began on Sept. 25. It was published again on Oct. 2 and appeared for the third and final time on Tuesday.
"We've been busy since Sept. 25," Bleigh said.
About 15,000 residents who had failed to pay their real estate taxes were identified. The roll is down from about 25,000 who were named in a list released last May.
As of July 1, 2011, $104.4 million in real estate taxes was owed to the county, Bleigh said. Most of that money was collected before the names were published in the paper.
But now about $4.7 million in taxes remains outstanding for the 2011 tax year. That's about 10 percent of what is due as of the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1.
"And then we collect a good bit of that when the delinquent tax lists get published," he said.
Typically, most of the people whose names are listed pay up soon after they appear in the papers. Bleigh knew of no single reason for people to wait until that happens to settle up.
"I think some people really don't know they owe taxes. But I think a lot of people just wait until the last minute. And some people can't pay their taxes."
The ones who can't pay often ask Bleigh if a payment plan is available. It isn't.
He tries to make sure everyone knows they owe taxes before the names are published. He sends notifications to property owners who are delinquent.
"And I'll be sending out certified notifications to people that are delinquent at the end of the week," he said.
Bleigh also sends notifications to new property owners to inform them of their tax obligations.
"We're just trying to give as much notice as we can," he said.
In the case of unpaid taxes, liens on the properties will be auctioned to the highest bidders at the Kanawha County Courthouse on Nov. 13. The property itself is not sold at the auction.
The phrase "auctioned on the courthouse steps" is a misnomer, Bleigh said. The liens actually are auctioned in a room inside the courthouse.
The historic Courtroom Four in the courthouse previously housed the auction, Bleigh said, but this year it's undergoing renovations and cannot be used.
"I'm not sure where we're going to hold the auction yet," he said. "We might hold it in another courtroom or the commission chambers."
A large crowd usually gathers for the tax lien auction. Bleigh estimated that about 160 buyers are represented at the sale. They hope to make money when property owners redeem the liens.
Most liens are sold to companies that specialize in purchasing tax liens as an investment.
The owner of the property then has 18 months to pay the taxes before the sale is final, Bleigh said. The individual or company that purchased the lien charges 1 percent interest per month. The delinquent owner must pay the interest along with other expenses incurred by the purchaser.
Most owners of property for which liens have been sold pay the fees, he said.
But if the owner does not redeem the tax ticket or pay the interest, the property is deeded to the lien purchaser, Bleigh said.
Both individual purchasers and companies consider the purchase of the tax liens a sound investment, he said.
"Show me another investment that makes 1 percent a month simple interest."
Taxes must be paid with cash after Nov. 6, Bleigh said.
He was unsure how many parcels of property would make it to the lien sale on Nov. 13 because the delinquent owners have until the Friday before the sale to pay, he said.
The sales list is not finalized until just before the sale starts at 9 a.m.
The sale runs from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. starting Nov. 13. It will continue until all of the tax liens are sold.