Town to consider publishing back taxes

FRONT ROYAL – Property owners owe about $177,000 in delinquent taxes to Front Royal – information the town soon could post in local newspapers.

Town Council plans to consider reviving an old practice of advertising information about delinquent real estate taxes. Councilman Eugene Tewalt asked town staff recently to look into publishing the names of property owners in arrears for taxes and amounts.

Director of Finance B.J. Wilson said Thursday the town used to publish a list of property owners and unpaid taxes in local newspapers. Advertising or at least publicizing delinquent tax accounts is a common practice by some municipalities, Wilson said. Frederick County makes such a list available on its website. Shenandoah County does not publish a list in local newspapers or online but the treasurer’s office can provide a list on request.

The town could put the list on its website, advertise it in a newspaper or both. Front Royal also has an ordinance that allows the town to publicize the information in a newspaper, Wilson said.

“Real estate is public knowledge, so we can do it,” Wilson said. “As time changes I guess we kind of got away from it as did other municipalities.”

Newer technology, especially the availability of the same information via a searchable database on the town’s website, made publishing such lists not as necessary, Wilson noted.

“If you wanted to look up and see how much your neighbor owes or paid, it’s public knowledge,” Wilson said.

The practice appears to help compel property owners to pay their back taxes, Wilson noted.

The list Wilson provided to council for its work session Monday shows that several hundred property owners, many with multiple lots, owe almost $177,000 in real estate taxes. Delinquent amounts range from a few dollars to several thousand dollars. Some delinquent accounts go back years. The town can collect taxes dating back 20 years, Wilson said.

The town doesn’t put liens on delinquent accounts, nor does it go after back taxes in the same way as Warren County, Wilson said. Warren County has enlisted two firms to collect delinquent taxes. The county also goes through the courts to recoup back taxes.

Front Royal property owners pay taxes to both the town and the county. Asked whether or not the town has considered joining the county in trying to collect back taxes, Wilson said he did not know if that could be done.

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