While nobody likes paying taxes, they should do it.
Which is why every year, I enjoy writing a big story about the people who don’t.
You may have noticed the story we ran in both the News Sun and the Advance Leader this week about an industrial building in Ligonier that has more than $24,000 owed in back taxes. That building is a repeat from last year’s tax sale, when it also made the list of properties with more than $10,000 owed.
To me, the tax sale is one of those I file under the “things people should care about but probably don’t” category of stories that I like to write. I keep my eyes open for the legal notice from the county auditor’s office every year, because the tax sale listing can reveal a few things about the community.
1) How’s the economy doing? Not surprisingly, when things are bad, more items end up on the tax sale because people either can’t afford or simply skip paying their taxes. Taking a look year-to-year to see how many properties are listed and how much back tax is owed can tell you how things are going locally.
2) This is money that local governments aren’t getting. The way government budgeting works is that the county, cities, towns, schools, libraries and townships only get a budget big enough that the local property values can support.
One problem with this method is that when governments are planning, the number they get for assessed value is a total, regardless of who may or may not pay their taxes, so they budget based on that amount. When people don’t pay their taxes, that’s money that is planned for services that the communities just don’t get, which can be a problem.
3) The tax sale often helps identify where local government screwed up in the past. For example, the parking lot at the Kendallville Event Center has $162,000 owed on it. That parking lot never ever should have been a separate parcel from the business it serves, but somehow the building sold separately. So now there is a parking lot that no one wants to own because who wants to just own a parking lot?
Another one is a small, landlocked piece of property up in Wolcottville with about $13,000 owed. This less than 1 acre piece of ground is functionally useless, so how and why did it become its own parcel? No one is ever going to pay those taxes. No one is ever going to want to own that ground. So what can be done to remedy it?
As for Ligonier’s case, the industrial building that’s now super overdue is a little worse for wear, but, at least from the outside, it doesn’t look totally beyond redemption. (Who knows what the inside condition is, though.)
I think it’s doubtful anyone will purchase it this year if they didn’t last year. And while it’s only the second year on the tax sale, it’s probably time for Ligonier leaders to start thinking about a plan to address it. The guy who owns it has shown little ability and/or willingness to care for it and pay his part.
While local governments never want to get into the real estate business, it’s prudent sometimes to get involved to wrest these properties away from detached owners and work to get them to someone who will not just pay taxes, but utilize a property for a positive impact.
Getting these properties out of the tax sale and back on the rolls is a positive thing for the community.
And, in my own self interest, if they’re off the tax sale, I don’t have to write about them next year and can focus on something new.