County ramps up efforts to collect back taxes

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County recouped some unpaid taxes in its recent property sale.

The Board of Supervisors this week heard a presentation by Jeffery Scharf, with Taxing Authority Consulting Services PC, on what the firm could do to help the county collect delinquent real estate taxes. The Virginia-based firm specializes in providing tax collection and bankruptcy services and consulting to state and local governments. Approximately 40 jurisdictions contract with the firm, Scharff said.

“We are not a typical collections agency,” Scharff said. “The goal is not always to collect the dollars but the goal is to collect as much as we can but also to serve the citizens and serve the community as best as possible.”

The board will consider entering into a contract with Taxing Authority Consulting Services.

County Administrator Doug Stanley noted the treasurer’s office struggles with undeveloped lots created decades ago for recreational purposes that now lie in subdivisions. Properties purchased for little money get handed down to heirs who fail to pay the taxes owed, Stanley said. The properties don’t sell for much because buyers don’t know if the lots will perk for residential development, he added.

Scharff said his firm has had experience dealing with tax sales for these kinds of lots. A zoning administrator can determine if a lot would allow development, he added.

“We’ve found it’s almost impossible for us to be able to determine if it’s non-buildable unless we go out there and perk, unless we go out and survey measurements to adjoining wells,” Stanley said.

The firm won’t get paid unless it recoups the taxes owed to the county, he said.

The county already contracts the services of the Pond Law Group in Front Royal. The local firm works with property owners to collect back taxes and also conducts the tax sales on the courthouse steps. The firm intends to hold another tax sale in the coming weeks, and representatives expect the properties listed to include houses or other structures. The most recent sale featured mostly undeveloped land.

Property owners with land in the tax sale owed $107,435 in unpaid taxes to the county. The latest assessment valued the property at $349,100. The sale yielded $131,600. However, any money made through the sale of the property that exceeds the amount owed to the county plus the cost for the law firm’s services goes back to the property owner.

Several properties yielded far more from the sale than what the owner owed. For example, a lot in the Tharpe subdivision garnered $30,000 even though the owner owed only $3,470. A 5-acre property garnered $57,000 though the owner owed $12,785. By contrast, many properties garnered far less in the sale than the owners owed. For example, a property in High Knob whose owner owed $13,236 sold for only $1,500. The assessed value of the property was $10,000 – less than the taxes owed. In several cases, the firm sold two properties in one sale though that did not usually garner enough to cover the taxes owed.

Any money garnered from a property sale that exceeds the amount in arrears goes back to the owner, minus legal fees and other associated costs, interim County Attorney Dan Whitten explained Friday.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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