In 2020, Franklin County will miss out on $44,075 in taxes from 361 properties. In fact, they will instead cost the county $54,150.
When a property is delinquent in taxes for three years, and no one bids on it in open auction, the county then gets the deed to the property in lieu of taxes owed.
On Tuesday, the Franklin County commission approved adding 77 new properties to its ownership list, bringing the total to just over 360.
Franklin County Collector Doug Trentmann explained the county is missing out on $44,075 each year that it would receive if the properties were on the tax rolls.
Before the addition of the 77 new properties this week, there were 284 properties on the delinquent tax list.
Trentmann said the base taxes owed were $28,730, add to that $46,439 in interest and penalties, and the county’s fees, and that total owed on the 284 properties is $146,551.
Each of these properties has back taxes owed and has accrued a 10 percent fee for work done by office staff and the title company.
Trentmann explained the properties came into the county’s possession after three tax sales.
Every year a property is on the delinquent list Franklin County must spend $150 on title searches, mailings to reach the owners and publications.
“By the time a property reaches the tax sale after four years of unpaid taxes, it has cost the county $450,” Trentmann said. “The 77 properties we added this year have already cost the county $34,650, on top of the penalties and interest, and the original unpaid taxes.”
Each year, the county holds a tax sale in an effort to sell off these properties.
This year, 41 properties were sold at the tax sale.
“We didn’t sell as many as last year, but we are trending in a good direction,” Trentmann said. “We are seeing the county take on less and less each year.”
In 2016, only 37 properties were sold, making it the worst tax sale the county has ever had.
The majority of the properties are small plats in subdivision developments created in the 1970s and 1980s to be weekend lake retreats.
The back taxes on some properties are thousands of dollars, while others can be purchased for about $100.
These small lake lots can be purchased for an average of $450. The lower range is about $300 and some are selling for as much as $600.
Currently, the most expensive property on the list is in Melody Lake, Leslie, for $4,095.
The cheapest property on the list is on Piney Park Terrace in St. Clair, which can be had for $2.60.
Trentmann explained the strange parcel is actually a vertical bluff that was originally conveyed in 1941.
In addition to the county being stuck with the lots, many of the lake developments are now being condemned, leaving the property not only worthless but a possible health hazard that is practically unmarketable.
In many cases the properties are located in private subdivisions, which require fees and have rules and restrictions on property uses and development.
Since the small lots are virtually worthless, many owners can’t sell them and even if they do, it is for just a few hundred dollars. They instead just walk away.
Since the county owns the properties, local schools and other taxing districts are losing out on the property tax money, although it is very low.
For example, the assessed property tax on a lot in the Fawn Lake subdivision outside Union is just $7.63 per year.
Other than losing tax revenue, it doesn’t cost the county anything to have the properties and the vacant lots aren’t an issue.
The lots that are inside city limits or the ones that have derelict structures on them are the biggest problems.
Local municipalities put pressure on the county to tear down structures and trim weeds, but the county is simply not equipped to do that type of work and hiring outside contractors could cost thousands of dollars and possibly do more damage than good.
In many of those cases, the county will simply give the property to the municipality and then it can take on the task of maintaining it, without really remedying the problem.