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Property tax deadline is Monday

By Staff | Mar 29, 2008

Staff at the Lee County Tax Collector’s office are expecting a crush of mail next week as residents and business owners across southwest Florida rush to beat the Monday deadline and pay their property taxes on time.

“The majority of people do pay in November and it kind of trickles down from there, and then March is the next big rush,” said Tammy Harrison of the tax collector’s office. “A lot of people wait until March 31 to mail it in.”

Though the area has seen a record number of foreclosures and is experiencing a nasty economic slowdown, the number of people yet to pay their taxes is not significantly higher than it was last year. According to the county, about 13.7 percent of real estate taxes remain uncollected and 15.3 percent of tangible property taxes are yet to be paid as of Friday.

Lee County Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson was surprised to hear those figures.

“I would have thought it would be higher,” he said.

Those numbers represent a jump of less than 3 percent compared to last year at this time. Harrison believes that this year’s small uptick is not statistically significant.

“Each year is a little bit different,” she said. “It goes up and it goes down.”

She could not speculate as to how many will be delinquent, saying she will have a much better idea after April 5, when all taxes postmarked by the deadline arrive and are processed.

Banks and other lenders who own foreclosed properties usually pay their taxes well in advance of the deadline, but some investors and individuals wait until the last minute to hold on to the money as long as possible. Harrison said many homeowners wait until their federal income tax refunds to come back so they can use that money to help pay off their property taxes.

But there are always some people who simply do not pay their taxes on time. Those people then have their tax certificates sold to investors, who pay the tax amounts in full at a May auction.

“The certificate buyers can earn up 18 percent interest, but we sell it to the lowest bidder,” said Harrison. “But they’re not going at 18 percent interest. Most of them go for a quarter of a percent interest.”

Despite bidding at a quarter percent, the law sets a 5 percent minimum on return for tax certificates. At auction, investors bid as low as possible and then are awarded the certificates through a random selection process.

Though times are tight, Harrison expects plenty of people willing to snatch up those investments.

“I do not think I’m going to lack investors that will buy certificates,” she said.

Property owners who have tax certificates sold must pay the investor the interest, several fees as well as the original tax amount. If, after two years, the property owners have yet to repay the debt, certificate owners can apply for tax deeds to the properties.

At a recent mayor’s town hall meeting, some Cape Coral residents expressed concern that many people will not pay their taxes and that the city government would experience a “double whammy” budget shortfall as property values are bound to decrease next year, resulting in less revenue.

But Wilkinson dismissed that idea and Harrison pointed out that the investors who obtain tax certificates pay up front and that her office takes care of distributing the funds to the proper government bodies.

“The governments will always get their money,” said Wilkinson.