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Final rush to pay property taxes begins

By Staff | Mar 25, 2016

The rush is on for Lee County residents and property owners to pay their real estate and tangible personal property taxes by the March 31 deadline.

As of Tuesday, taxes were still due on more than 61,000 parcels in Lee County as the final week to pay without having to pay additional fees and penalties approaches. While many people pay these taxes through escrow in their mortgage, there are others who pay annually.

Florida property taxes are relatively unique because they are levied annually and taxes have to be paid in full and at one time unless the property owner has filed for the installment ????program.

Joanne Robertson, director of Administration and Community Relations with the Lee County Tax Collector’s Office, said out of 577,485 parcels, 455,850 accounts, around 79 percent, have been paid.

Robertson said a combination of things will result in a very busy final week.

“People also often wait until the end of the month to renew their car registration, so there’s a double reason why we’re busier at the end of the month,” Robertson said. “If they don’t pay by March 31, there is a 5 percent penalty in April, which kicks in on April 1 because that’s on a Friday.”

The big month, though, is November, when most of the tax money comes in.

Robertson said 308,015 parcels, or nearly 60 percent, were paid in November, as mortgage companies are required to pay those taxes as part of the escrow on mortgages they hold.

“They will always pay the November amount. We’re usually really busy in November because that’s when most of the tax roll is paid, and that’s just in real estate,” Robertson said.

Substantial discounts are extended for early payment, up to 4 percent if they are paid when the tax bills go out in November, according to Florida Statute 197.162. The discount decreases 1 percent per month.

In December, taxes on 82,537 parcels were collected by the county, as many were looking to pay at the end of the year for income tax reasons.

That number slowed to a trickle in January and February before ramping up again in March.

All in all, Lee County is expected to collects more than $1.2 billion in real estate taxes.

If the taxes remain unpaid after May 23, the property is at risk of having a tax certificate issued. The tax certificate sale is not a sale for the purchase of the property, but rather the purchase of a lien for the delinquent taxes, interest, costs and charges for the property described in the certificate.

“It’s so that the taxes get paid and the taxing authorities get paid to meet their budget. Every line on that tax bill represents some entity waiting for that money,” Robertson said. “Even if the tax certificates are sold, you have two years to redeem that before you’re in jeopardy of losing your property.”

If the taxes still aren’t paid, the certificate holder has to take action on what to do with the home, so they would apply for a tax deed.

At that point, a tax deed is applied for through the Clerk of Court’s office. Throughout the process, people are notified and the property owner will still have the opportunity to pay the taxes.

There is an average of 30,000 parcels annually that go to a tax certificate sale, Robertson said, and amount that has gone down slightly in the past few years as the economy has improved.

“What we found out is that many people weren’t paying early. We have seen an increase in November payments in the last few years, which is a good indicator,” Robertson. “There are also fewer parcels of land involved in bankruptcy filings.”

For those properties that aren’t sold, a tax certificate are called county-held certificates.

One option people have is to pay their annual taxes in installments. Taxes are paid in three equal payments, with a small discount applied to them. To apply for the new tax year, applications must be submitted by April 30.

Customers can also make partial payments, but there is a $10 processing fee applied to that. Only 452 customers chose to pay in that method.

Taxes are also due on tangible personal property, which are typically paid by larger companies on assets. There is a much smaller role on these, around 16,000, Robertson said.

Tangible personal property tax is a tax based on businesses for furnishings, fixtures, signs, supplies, and equipment used in the operation of business, and rental furnishings such as furnishings and appliances provided in a rental unit.

As of April 1, a 1.5 percent penalty, collection fees and advertising fees are added to the gross amount due.