The Truth About Liens

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Feb 14, 2013 Comments Off on The Truth About Liens Manager

arthur ferdinand pictureWhen a lien is placed on a property it means, for whatever reason, the property owner failed to pay taxes owed. When I first became Tax Commissioner, the County, Atlanta City Schools, Fulton County Schools, and the City of Atlanta were owed more than $200,000,000 in uncollected taxes. The millage rate was raised year after year so that the amount of tax revenue provided by law abiding taxpayers who paid their taxes would make up the shortfall caused by uncollected taxes. I take a proactive approach with regard to tax collecting because I believe we all pay less tax, individually, when everyone pays their fair share. Lien sales help share the burden of paying taxes and pushes down the millage rate. Fulton County’s millage has decreased 21% during my time as your Tax Commissioner. In 1997, the millage rate was 13.03mils, today it is 10.281 mils.

More than ninety-five percent of Fulton County’s property owners pay their taxes on time, while less than five percent pay late or not at all. Some taxpayers pay late with penalty and interest paid at the Tax Commissioners office. Many senior citizens request payment plans when they receive their tax bill. We average about 600 payment plans to seniors each year. Any taxpayer may open a tax account at Citizens Trust Bank at any time. Third parties purchase about two percent of taxes that become delinquent, and must give the owner of the property at least one year to pay the debt at the same interest rate and penalty that would have accrued in the Tax Commissioner’s office. It is the law.

This process relieves law abiding taxpayers of the burden of paying more than their fair share to make up for owners who do not pay. Selling tax liens make funds readily available to the County, schools and cities to plan and meet budget obligations and to provide the services all taxpayers expect.

property liens pictureThere are many reasons taxpayers pay taxes late or not at all, ranging from financial difficulties, to attempts to game the system, to ignoring a tax bill, to not paying taxes as part of a business model. Most taxpayers whose liens are sold are law abiding taxpayers who have fallen on hard times and seek options for paying their taxes. Most taxpayers arrange a payment plan with the third party holder. The third party lien purchaser, by law, holds the lien for at least one year, after which time a few liens are foreclosed for non-payment of the obligation.

While taxes are in dispute or in appeal, the property owner must pay 85% of billed taxes. When the tax issue is resolved the taxpayer is refunded or must pay the remaining billed taxes. It is the law. Taking taxes owed off the tax roll while in appeal, as some suggest, is an open door to corruption, and for tax appeals to become legal tax evasion vehicles.

The “poster child” of the aggrieved whose liens were sold is often unwittingly used as a pawn by self-appointed “no lien sales advocates/activists” who themselves have had their liens sold multiple times and most often on multiple properties.

We each pay less tax when everyone pays their fair share. Law abiding Fulton County property taxpayers, rightfully, expect nothing less.