Our view: St. Louis County:Stop those who take advantageSt. Louis County has a big heart when it comes to folks who fall on hard times and have difficulty paying their property taxes.
St. Louis County has a big heart when it comes to folks who fall on hard times and have difficulty paying their property taxes. The county doesn’t even treat them as delinquent until after five years of nonpayment. Then it sends out sheriff’s deputies to gently remind them their grace period is coming to an end. The county even offers a 10-year payment plan with 10 percent of what’s owed as a down payment. And even after property is officially forfeited to the government for failure to pay taxes, at least a year is granted by the county before the land is sold to someone else.
“We really don’t want to force anyone out of their homes,” Karen Zeisler of the St. Louis County Lands and Minerals Department told the News Tribune’s John Myers for a story this past weekend.
The county’s grace and graciousness are truly commendable.
Except that some property owners are shamelessly taking advantage. They’re perverting a system set up to help those who need it so they can avoid, or at least put off, meeting their civic financial responsibility. They’re taking advantage of compassion for business purposes.
It’s wrong. And St. Louis County officials clearly need to find a way to close the loophole that allows it and to stop the abuse of the county’s good intentions.
How wrong? Take William Kaper — please. He’s a millionaire who lives in a mansion on seven acres in suburban Chicago. He’s also the king of unpaid taxes in St. Louis County. He owes nearly $170,000 on 225 parcels. (He owed more than $200,000 until he sold 26 parcels a few days ago.) It’s not that he can’t pay like he’s supposed to. He chooses not to. It would be more prudent for him to pay once the economy improves, he suggested in an interview with Myers, an interview in which Kaper referred to himself as a “hustler” who has been buying and selling land in northern Minnesota for five decades of wheeling-and-dealing profits.
“Essentially, I (use) the county tax office like my bank,” Kaper said.
The gall! And he’s not alone. A growing number of property owners with outstanding property tax debts are waiting until the last possible moments to make payments and keep their land. A legal notice published in the News Tribune in June listed 919 parcels owned by hundreds of people who haven’t paid property taxes since at least 2008. That’s up from 775 parcels last year and nearly double the number of delinquent parcels in 2010. But while the number of parcels with overdue taxes has grown the number of properties actually forfeited has remained relatively flat.
That suggests that about the same number of people are falling on hard times and having difficulties paying while a troublingly growing number of property owners are being opportunistic like Kaper and using the county as a bank.
“Some people know the system,” St. Louis County Auditor Don Dicklich said in Sunday’s story.
Some know it far too well, apparently, all its ins and outs — except that it’s set up the way it is to sincerely help those at risk of losing their homes.
The onus is on county officials and the elected St. Louis County Board to find a way to stop the others who, like Kaper, take advantage and deny the county big bucks it could be using to repair roads, run courts, or provide social services, public safety via the sheriff’s department and other county services.