At a glance: Delinquent taxes in Erie County
About 1,800 properties today owe a collective $7 million in delinquent property taxes to the Erie County treasurer’s office.
As Erie County’s new main tax woman comes and collects, she’s leaving with more money than anyone else has received in recent times.
Almost 1,800 properties in Erie County today are tax delinquent, translating to about $7 million in public funds missing from various government bank accounts.
The financial figure represents a 35 percent decrease from 2013, when the Register last published a news story on delinquent taxes. Back then, 2,300 properties in Erie County collectively owed $10.7 million.
So what’s the secret in getting more people to pay their property taxes-
Since being appointed to office in January 2014, Erie County treasurer Pam Ferrell introduced a more aggressive approach and created more oversight to ensure debtors pay their taxes. Ferrell replaced Jo Dee Fantozz, who died shortly after resigning as county treasurer in December 2013.
With help from Erie County assistant prosecutor Jason Hinners, who also oversees the account, officials send out letters to defaulters immediately after they miss payment deadlines.
The letters, sent to everyone at least two years late on paying taxes, inform debtors about their financial obligations. These letters also let people know they have 10 days to contact the treasurer’s office to begin making payments or face foreclosure.
Upon reaching out to officials, defaulters can pay off what they owe by getting on a payment plan.
If people sign on for a payment plan, the office doesn’t assess steep penalty and interest amounts in hopes people clear their debts.
“I want people to know that if they are behind on their real estate taxes, they can contact me or my office, and we’ll gladly put them on a contract so they can make their payments and not worry about going into foreclosure,” Ferrell said. “I don’t want to take anyone’s house. We offer programs for people to get out of debt.”
If delinquent property owners ignore letters and won’t sign up for payment plans, they’ll be required to pay the principal, interest and penalty amounts and face foreclosure.
“The way it used to be, if someone went on a contract, we pulled the foreclosure option off the table,” Ferrell said. “But now we just put it on hold so we don’t have to go through a long process and through court again to get them to pay. We can now take quick action to foreclose on people if they don’t pay or ignore us.”
More money, less problems
Property taxes typically represent the single biggest source of income for local school districts.
To a lesser degree, other government bodies dependent upon a levy – townships, villages, libraries, health departments, park districts and others – also need property tax money for operations.
From the county’s tax roll, totaling about $104 million each year, anywhere from 60 percent to 70 percent goes to local school districts.
When people don’t pay their taxes, it creates the most severe and negative chain reaction for education.
A quick math lesson: Outstanding tax money missing from a school’s budget equates to less income for learning centers, forcing administrators to cut programs and reduce staff when balancing a budget.
But when people do pay their taxes, administrators can steer clear of subtraction.
“We are certainly appreciative to our citizens for being responsible to that degree,” Sandusky Schools superintendent Eugene Sanders said.
In Sandusky – where, at any given time, almost half the delinquent properties are located – the city’s school district system heavily relies upon tax payments.
City residents making tax payments “allows for us to provide the best quality programming and services to the students of our district,” Sanders said.
More people paying taxes helps the greater good as well.
“The more money I collect, the less I have to ask the public in levies,” Ferrell said.
Who owes the most?
The man responsible for displacing 30 households in a now-defunct mobile home park owes more money to Erie County than any one else.
At about $1.64 million, Joe Yost ranks No. 1 on the treasurer’s default list.
The primary reason for such a high amount: Last summer, Yost received a 180-day jail sentence and 500 hours of community service after neglecting to pay water bills for tenants in the former Hoppers mobile home park on Tiffin Avenue and Venice Road.
The residents paid Yost for their water bills, but he failed to pass those payments onto the city.
The park’s water access was shut off in August 2013, and residents were forced to leave their homes and abandoned their close-knit community.
Yost still owes money on this property and others he owns, including the Westgate Development and Cold Creek housing complex. It’s not known when, or even if, he’ll make these payments.
“We are going to take (the Yost properties) to sale as soon as we possibly can so we can get this tax money back to the schools, the health department, the libraries, the park district, the townships and everybody else,” Ferrell said.
Box: Payment plans
Erie County treasurer Pam Ferrell encourages any property owner within the county to contact her office if they owe money and want to get on a payment plan.