PORTSMOUTH — After years of having troubles collecting property taxes, Portsmouth City Council is calling for action from the Scioto County Commissioners and state officials.
1st Ward Councilman Sean Dunne brought the issue to attention during the Portsmouth City Manager’s session Monday evening, saying the time had come to address the issue.
“There has to be a point where we step back and say, ‘This isn’t working very well’, ” said Dunne. “We’re not doing a good job here. We need to do better.”
When asked during the Commissioners’ Tuesday meeting, Commissioner Bryan Davis clarified that it is not their job to collect taxes, but rather County auditor David Green.
“We, too, really hate the fact there are people in this county that do not pay their property taxes,” said Davis.”I have a feeling that this being brought up right now because it is a political season and some would try to use this as a way to make jabs at the County Commissioners. They need to know exactly who is responsible for doing the work.”
According to the most recent Scioto County Audited Financial Statement, nearly $2 million in property taxes went unpaid in 2018. Data suggests after dropping from a peak of $2.16 million in 2015, the number has grown slowly in the years since.
“It’s always been a problem,” said Scioto County Treasurer Bill Ogg. “People come in and out of delinquency all the time, it’s not just perpetually the same people overand-over. It’s something that happens in someones’ life when they have set-backs.”
Poor economic times in the county have contributed to the problem, where the U.S. Census reports 22.6% of its residents live in poverty. In addition, collecting the missing money is a challenge in itself, where many have declared bankruptcy or moved out of the state.
Commissioner Mike Crabtree said foreclosure sales are a way for the county to obtain those funds, yet with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announcing earlier this month that evictions would be put on extended pause until the end of the year; these foreclosure sales will not happen until 2021.
“Sometimes people get in positions where they cannot pay their taxes and the sad part about it is that they eventually lose their home, not only because of the taxes but because they aren’t paying their mortgage as well,” said Crabtree. “Not all of them are scoundrels. A lot of them are honest people who found themselves in a tight spot.”
Davis fears the coronavirus could further challenge the collection of property taxes as people’s budgets have tightened and substantial unemployment.
“You’ve had a lot of people who have lost income,” said Davis. “Some of our restaurants are staying alive because of outdoor dining. What’s going to happen when the temperature falls below freezing?”
The victims of delinquent property taxes are the primary recipients of the funding it would create. Included in the group are local schools, townships, cities, villages, Scioto County Children Services, Scioto County Developmental Disabilities, senior citizens and more. Ogg said the remainder of the funding goes into a general fund, used for things such as road repairs.
“Those are two groups that really need that money,” said Councilwoman Charlotte Gordon, who believes that money could go to hiring more teachers and providing more educational services, thus enticing more families to relocate into the county.
Dunne said most businesses have been paying their fair share, but there are also some that have failed to do and use tax-provided city services on top of it. This creates what he described as an “incredible situation.”
One of the larger sources of the insufficient funds is the New Boston Coke Plant, which ceased operations and declared bankruptcy in 2002. With taxes and interest included, $829,886 is due to the county according to the auditor website. Ownership now based out of Troy, Michigan, Davis feels the county will never see that money from that group.
Only through a deal with the New Boston Coke Corporation and the Scioto County Land Bank, which would change ownership, the bank could finally get those taxes to the county auditor. Still, Davis admits this still wouldn’t solve everything.
“Once we get it, then we can start applying for Environmental Protection Agency loans to get that whole site cleaned,” said Davis. “It’s going to be a 20-year project; it’s been languishing for 16.”
While Dunne is requesting state assistance, Mayor Kevin Johnson and Davis both feel confident that increased understanding of the issue could come from within the county.
“I’ve always found the county to be very easy and accomodating to work with,” said Johnson, regarding the work of the county auditor’s office.
Above all else, the Commissioners and Ogg recommend those struggling with their taxes to start conversations with county officials. Payment plans are available for those with delinquent taxes, which creates a system of five equal payments in installments of six months. This method removes the threat of foreclosure and some of the stringent fees that come with other repayment methods, said Ogg.
“If you are paying your taxes, be proud of yourself,” said Ogg. “You are making a significant contribution to the community.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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