The number of people in the county who can’t pay their taxes is growing.
In another sign of the financial struggles because of the recession and the ongoing credit crisis, the number of county landowners who haven’t been able to pay their property taxes this year is up for the second year in a row.
Initial liens filed for nonpayment of taxes are up about 20 percent from a year ago and 40 percent from two years ago.
“It’s up by about 300 [from last year]. It’s significantly more,” said County Attorney Mark M. Rider, whose office oversees tax foreclosures. “I don’t know whether it’s a trend or not.”
More than 1,700 liens for 2008 taxes were filed in the county clerk’s office in Ballston Spa this week, up from 1,448 a year ago. It was 1,278 in December 2006.
The filing of liens is the first step of a three-year process that could lead to the county taking those properties and selling them at auction if the taxes remain unpaid. Most people who face tax liens eventually pay the taxes.
The unpaid tax list is out of about 80,000 tax bills the county sends each January.
There’s definitely a trend of growing public concern about the ability to pay property taxes.
Complaints about property taxes have been growing for years. Talk of ways to cap taxes is widespread around the state Capitol in Albany.
While the number of liens is higher than in recent years, Rider said if history is an indication, nearly all the property owners will pay their taxes before the county moves to actual foreclosure, which will take more than another year.
The 55-page lien list filed at the county clerk’s office is of owners whose property taxes haven’t been paid since last Jan. 1, when the 2008 local and county tax bills were mailed. They also include any unpaid school taxes from September.
The county reimburses school districts each year for their uncollected taxes, then acts as the enforcement agency to either collect the taxes or foreclose on the properties for nonpayment.
The county enforcement policy doesn’t apply in the cities of Saratoga Springs and Mechanicville, which do their own collections and enforcement.
The taxes can be paid until just before the property auction starts. If a homeowner is also behind on their mortgage, the bank usually steps in and pays the taxes to make way for its own foreclosure before the county acts, Rider said.
Actual foreclosure notices following up on the new liens won’t go out for nearly a year, and many people on the new list will pay their taxes after receiving that notice, Rider said.
In 2005, Rider said there were 1,228 properties on the initial lien list, but only 30 properties were actually sold at auction last March, when foreclosures for that year were completed.
Rider said it’s difficult to tell at this point what kinds of properties are on the unpaid tax list. While some are homes, he said others will be tiny slivers of land left after the property subdivisions in a development, or land that is unusable.
“By the time we get to judgment, there won’t be many homes left on it,” Rider said.