ELYRIA — Since March 2015, the efforts of the offices of Lorain County Treasurer Dan Talerek and county Prosecutor Dennis Will have collected more than $15 million in delinquent property taxes.
Assistant County Prosecutor Chris Pyanowski said the program is designed to help people get caught up on back taxes and avoid foreclosure.
Talerek is a little more direct in his assessment.
“That’s what you call the ‘fear of God,’” Talerek said. “With the work the prosecutor has been doing, people are finally realizing if they don’t pay their taxes the county prosecutor will actually go after them and then the sheriff will sell their property. That has worked tremendously because word gets around to people.”
Pyanowski estimated there are about 8,800 properties in the county that are eligible for tax foreclosure, which he said usually means they’re at least a year behind on taxes.
The Prosecutor’s Office reviews a list of delinquent property taxes and sends letters to property owners warning them they are in danger of being foreclosed. Pyanowski has estimated, countywide, between 45 and 50 percent of those who get letters enter into a payment plan through Talarek’s office or pay off what they owe.
Over the past five years, Talerek’s office has collected nearly $93 million in delinquent property taxes. The county offering a third tax collection in October over the last 20 years also has been a big part of that collection effort.
Talerek said sometimes the nonpayment of taxes owed is just a simple mistake, such as a property owner paying off a mortgage in which the mortgage company had handled paying the taxes, and the property owner had neglected paying afterward.
Going through the process of foreclosing on a property can be quite expensive because “of all the court costs,” according to Talerek.
That doesn’t mean the Prosecutor’s Office isn’t going after property owners that are delinquent, though.
Pyanowski said the county filed 129 tax foreclosure lawsuits in 2015 and 179 in 2016.
“In 2017 it ended up being right around 200,” he said. “There’s a number of steps in a process for foreclosure for us. Sometimes we’re relying on a number of entities — both governmental entities and external entities. Sometimes just getting all those people moving in the same direction can be difficult. Our goal was 300 for 2017.”
He anticipates the number will increase again in 2018.
Also, the more delinquent tax money collected means the county has more money to put toward collection efforts, according to Talerek.
“Because we’re generating more delinquent money, there’s a special fund that goes to the prosecutor and treasurer to go after delinquent taxes,” he said.
While the collection of delinquent taxes benefits nearly all in the county, the biggest winners are the local public school systems, which get nearly 70 percent of the delinquent taxes collected.
Over the past five years, Lorain Schools has received $8.7 million in from delinquent taxes collected, according to data from County Auditor Craig Snodgrass. Elyria Schools have received $6.4 million, Avon Lake Schools $4.6 million and North Ridgeville $4.5 million during that time from delinquent taxes collected.