Clerk and Master's Office prepares  for sale of tax delinquent properties

By Rozella Hardin

Charlotte McKeehan, Carter County Clerk and Master, is getting ready to have a property sale -- the sale of properties on which there are unpaid taxes.
   McKeehan said properties from 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999, on which there are unpaid taxes, will be sold in the foreseeable future unless the taxes are paid.
   Unpaid taxes for those years listed total $147,535.42. McKeehan's office has been in the process of sending out certified letters to property owners, who have unpaid taxes, notifying them of the impending sale if the taxes are not paid. "Some of the letters have been returned because the property owner has changed addresses, and has not notified the tax assessor's office. In this case, the sheriff's department will serve the papers," McKeehan said. "By law, we have to notify them," she explained.
   "Once property owners have been notified, we will advertise the property for sale at public auction, the date of which will be set by the county attorney. Also, the newspaper advertisement will list the names of the delinquent property owners along with a description of the parcel as to where it is located, and the amount of taxes they owe," McKeehan said.
   The clerk and master noted that it is the responsibility of the property owner to give the county tax assessor their correct address. "Sometimes we can't find them, because we don't know where they are. We do everything we can to notify them, so as to give them an opportunity to pay the taxes and penalty before the property is sold," she explained.
   After two years, property taxes that have not been paid are sent by the County Trustee to the Clerk and Master's Office for collection. At that time, the county attorney files a tax suit against the delinquent property owners in Chancery County. "They come with a penalty, and for each month they are not paid, they are assessed a penalty of 1 and 1/2 percent of the base tax. This is in addition to a 10 percent attorney fee and court costs which they must pay," McKeehan noted.
   "In some instances the penalty the property owner must pay on delinquent taxes is more than the tax itself," she said. "The 2000 taxes that came over here April 1 already have an 18 percent penalty on them," McKeehan said. The interest on unpaid 1999 taxes totals 39 percent as of April 1; 57 percent on 1998 unpaid taxes; 75 percent on 1997 unpaid taxes; 93 percent on unpaid 1996 taxes; 111 percent on unpaid 1995 taxes; and 129 percent on unpaid 1994 taxes. "We are talking some big penalties when it comes to delinquent taxes," McKeehan exclaimed.
   McKeehan has in her office a large ledger-type book which has all the delinquent properties listed in it. Each delinquent property is transferred to a card, which can be easily accessed when a property owner comes in to make payment.
   In most instances, property owners have three and four years to pay the delinquent taxes before it comes to the point that the property is sold at public auction to satisfy the taxes and costs.
   "Many times, the property owners will come in and pay the taxes if they know their name is going to be published in the paper," she said. "And, even after their names are published, some will come in and pay the taxes," she added.
   McKeehan said while the delinquent taxes amounted only to $147,535.42, "the county stands to gain much more as this amount does not include the penalties incurred by the delinquent taxpayers.
   "We will be having the sale sometime this spring," McKeehan said.