Proof positive: Publishing delinquent tax list could be money-maker for county clerks

Delinquent tax list publication: Proof positive these can be break-even to money-making propositions for county clerks

During the hearing, the Kentucky Department of Revenue made comments on the LRC’s study of public notices. The department kept its comments to one important public notice required to be published in newspapers: Delinquent tax lists.

Personally, I’ve long argued that if a sufficient number of those whose names appear did in fact pay their tax bill, and the resulting penalty to cover publication costs, counties could have a windfall of income. The requirement has been that a delinquent taxpayer be charged $5 for each time his/her name appears on the list. But without teeth in the law to take over the property, many of those decide not to pay the tax bill and the county can’t collect the $5 penalty.

A new process was developed in 2009 that allowed the cost of publication to be prorated to delinquent taxpayers. Instead of the $5 per name requirement, the cost of publication would be divided equally to all delinquent taxpayers.

I admit the sample was not representative of the entire state but during his testimony, Tom Crawford, director, Office of Property Valuation for the Department of Revenue, told the committee how the prorated cost-sharing helps counties.

He noted that in Kenton County, the cost of publication vs. the penalty process on delinquents, resulted in an almost break-even mode.

“In Kenton County, a very expensive area to advertise, Crawford said, the county clerk gave us information about her costs, 2015, over $16,000 in ad costs for delinquent tax bills, she recovered almost all but $500 for that year; $14,229 in 2016, and so far this year, she has recovered a little more than that already for this year.” He also told the committee that the Boyle County clerk reported actually making money. The cost of publication of the list was $968 but the clerk had taken in an extra $1,100 in fees, more than covering the costs of publication.

So here’s a suggestion: Make an Open Records request of the county clerk to see what the cost was of the publishing the delinquent tax list and include a request for the income from the formula that requires that cost to be paid on a pro-rated basis by the delinquent taxpayers in the county.

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