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Island County readies hundreds of foreclosure notices

The owners of 337 properties in Island County will receive notices soon that they are three years delinquent in paying property taxes and are at risk of foreclosure.

A recent decision by county officials, however, will make it easier for the delinquent taxpayers to avoid losing their homes or properties, at least in the short term.

Instead of paying all three years of taxes, plus interest and fees, now the property owners who receive certificates of delinquency will only have to pay one year’s worth of missed taxes, fees and interest to avoid foreclosure this year.

“It’s an effort to help homeowners redeem their property in hopes that next year they will be able to make themselves whole,” Island County Treasurer Ana Maria Nunez said.

Nunez was concerned about the extremely high number of properties on the delinquency list and the toll the economic downturn has had on the community. So she proposed changing the county’s policy on property tax foreclosure to help people out.

Under state law, the treasurer is required to initiate tax foreclosure proceedings by issuing a certificate of delinquency when an owner is three years late on property taxes. The county’s policy has always been to require taxpayers who become three years delinquent to pay the back taxes, fees and interest for all three years in order to avoid foreclosure.

But with the consent of the county commissioners, the treasurer may elect to issue a certificate of delinquency for only the earliest year the taxes were unpaid, which in this case is 2008. The commissioners unanimously approved a resolution approving the change Monday morning.

Commissioner Angie Homola noted that the point of the resolution was to “help our community and taxpayers stay in their homes.”

If delinquent taxpayers only pay taxes for one year, they will be back on the delinquency list next year. But Nunez said she hopes the change will give property owners the time they need to get into a better financial situation.

The change will have a small financial impact on the county and the other taxing districts, such as school and fire districts, for which the treasurer collects money. Budget Director Elaine Marlow said the change will mean an estimated $20,000 won’t be collected this year for the county and junior taxing districts.

According to Nunez, the 337 delinquent properties is a big increase over previous years. At the end of March last year, 101 properties were on the list. But of those, only seven went to auction.

Nunez said Jill Smith, the foreclosure deputy in the treasurer’s office, makes great efforts to help people avoid foreclosures. Sometimes the hardest part can be tracking people down. Smith also works with property owners to help them get deferrals, senior exemptions or other assistance.

“We don’t want to see anyone go into foreclosure,” Nunez said. “It’s our last resort, not our first resort.”

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