Tax officials from the city’s tax office were at hand during last Tuesday’s City Council meeting to discuss improperly assessing properties and erroneously selling liens on properties.
“There’s been lately, tax liens that were should that should not have been sold?” asked Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large.
The city was sued in January because it sold more than $200,000 worth of tax liens, most of it on properties with fully paid taxes, according to the lawsuit filed by John Fressie, who bought tax lien certificates on the properties that were current.
Richard Marra, the city’s chief tax assessor, said tax liens are sold as soon as a property is late in paying taxes for a quarter. And that property was late in paying taxes in 2010, making it a target for lien sale. However, later the property owner appealed to the city, and became current on his taxes, but the lien sold remained.
“They’re valid at the time they were sold,” said Kathleen Gibson, city’s tax collector. Gibson said by law, as soon as a property becomes delinquent she must sell the lien. And the appeal process on it comes afterwards, at which point the city must refund the lien buyer.
A week earlier the council described the tax office as incompetent because of the method it used to asses and tax at a home located at 45 12th Avenue. Tax officials looked at a listing of a soon-to-be built home, and taxed it without going to the location to check whether the house actually stood.
“We figured there was a new construction,” said Marra, citing a reason for taxing a property that did not exist. Marra said he noted the new construction that he saw on the internet and added the property on a list to have a tax assessor be sent to the location to verify, but that list somehow got lost, resulting in a wrong assessment.
“This process is an internal control breakdown,” said William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman. McKoy said the tax office should have consulted the Community Improvement Department which would have had to issue a permit had there been a legitimate construction at the site.
The small number of staff, two assessors and three office staff, does not help the office conduct its business as it should, said Charles Parmelli, 2nd in charge at the office. “The city once had six assessors,” said Parmelli. “We’re now down to two assessors.”
Parmelli said Fressie, the lien buyer who is suing the city, should have contacted the tax office seeking to correct the error. “John could have picked up the phone and said ‘Guys, I didn’t put a house there,’” said Parmelli, at which point the issue would have been resolved.