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Ellis Co. tax delinquencies near $550K

8/30/2012

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

They're back for their annual appearance. Delinquent real estate tax notices, first published in The Hays Daily News two weeks ago, will be published for the final time Friday.

But trying to determine whether unpaid Ellis County property taxes totaling $549,660 represent a trend of increased delinquencies isn't always as easy as just comparing totals from one year to the next.

"It's not a matter of who pays and who doesn't," said Ellis County Treasurer Mickey Billinger. "There's a lot of nuances there.

"The answer isn't simple."

A total of 306 Ellis County taxpayers will face tax sale if payments aren't made prior to the third publication. That number has increased compared to 2010 when 250 tax warrants were issued, and 2009 when 243 were issued.

County commissioners have discretionary power to determine when a judicial tax foreclosure sale is called for property with at least three years of delinquent taxes.

The last county tax sale was in 2010. Prior to the sale, most taxpayers paid their tax obligation, Billinger said, and, as a result of the sale, all tax obligations dating to 2005 were cleared off the books.

Although the numbers of tax warrants haven't increased dramatically between 2010 and 2011, the amount due has increased by $69,984. Contributing to that increase are several taxpaying entities owing large amounts. For example, the Denver Fund Ltd., owner of the Ramada, owes more than $74,000, spiking up the number considerably.

Approximately half a dozen taxpayers, including hotels, restaurants and oil companies, owe more than $10,000 each. Those owing tax bills in excess of $10,000 include: CC of Hays and Ritesh Patel, Golden Ox Truck Stop; Weilert Oil Co.; Chin-Ya LLC, 3505 Vine; BLS Trust, Buffalo Hills Park; and J&N Investments, Country View Mobile Home Park.

Billinger pointed out an instance that put a considerable wrench in delinquency data dating back several years and involving the large tax obligation of Stadium Place owned by Brooks Kellogg of Uniplace LLC. Commerce Bank paid county property back taxes of $190,965 and advance taxes of $18,985 prior to the property being sold by a sheriff's sale in September to Fort Hays State University.

Once taxes on the property were paid, following the forced sale of the real estate, the county's total delinquent taxes dropped substantially.

"But you can't honestly say the economy has really picked up when you just look at the tax number," Billinger said. "It's just one taxpayer with an odd set of circumstances."

In addition, regional economic factors come into play with larger businesses owned by corporations outside Ellis County.

"Generally, if you look at the growth of delinquencies, if you take out the larger ones and look at the numbers, there's been an increase that's not anything to be really concerned about because it's not increasing by much," he said. "If it was 10 percent every year, then I would say it was a local economy-driven problem.

"I would say as much as anything, the tax delinquencies we see have more of a regional economy push to it than simply a local economy."

Next month, the treasurer's office will be facing a similar process as it seeks to collect delinquent personal property and oil taxes. Approximately $151,253 in 2011 oil production taxes and $93,475 in personal property taxes will take the time and attention of treasurer's office employees as they work toward collections. The number of tax warrants for oil has decreased since 2010 from 1,474 to 1,327. Should those tax bills remain unpaid, the treasurer's office has the authority to file garnishments with the purchasing oil companies.

Collections on personal property and oil tax warrants for 2010 are approximately 96 percent. In the case of oil property tax warrants, the high rate of collection primarily is due to the county's ability to garnish payments by withholding funds through purchasing oil companies.

It's a time-intensive process, Billinger said, as each individual with oil lease interest must be taxed individually.

"We do really well there because as long as the oil well is still pumping, we are still going to collect," he said. "We get 96 percent of those collected.

"And that's incredible. ... I would compare that to anybody."