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Maki calls for stronger tax collections

| April 22, 2005 12:00 AM

By STEVE KADEL Western News Reporter

The superintendent of Libby School District has urged Lincoln County Commissioners to make stronger efforts to collect delinquent property taxes.

In an April 13 letter to commissioners Kirby Maki requested that steps be taken quickly to get the money.

"An increase in revenue would greatly benefit our district," Maki wrote. "We would appreciate it if you could pursue the collection of these back taxes as soon as possible."

Lincoln County property owners owe a total of $750,000 in delinquent taxes, county treasurer Geri Miller said Wednesday.

The amount was $803,000 until payments of about $53,000 were received in the last couple of months, she said. Taxes are owed on about 1,000 properties throughout the county.

The current debt includes delinquent payments for tax years 1996 through 2003.

The issue arose during Tuesday evening's Libby School Board meeting. A copy of Maki's letter was included in a packet of materials given to school board members.

"The county commission has not diligently done that," Maki said of going after delinquent taxes. "It could make hundreds of thousands of dollars difference for our district."

Libby City Council member Gary Huntsberger, who was attending the trustees' meeting, said he has talked with Lincoln County Commissioner Rita Windom about the problem within the last week. He expressed confidence that efforts will be made to go after the scofflaws.

"We're talking about a lot of money," Huntsberger said.

Miller said there is a detailed and lengthy procedure to follow in pursuing payment. She said the county has not set up an auction or sale of property due to outstanding taxes for at least 20 years.

Neither Windom nor commission assistant Bill Bischoff were available for comment Wednesday.

Miller said unpaid 2004 taxes will become delinquent in June. The next step, she said, is to prepare a tax sale date in mid-July for those properties.

A lien is assigned to the county unless someone else steps forward to buy the property. After the tax sale date is established, Miller must wait 36 months before she can issue a deed to the property.

Commissioners are given a list of delinquent properties, Miller said. They can schedule an auction or work with the property owner to set up a payment plan.

Sometimes people outside of Lincoln County request a property assignment, which is one of the first steps toward possible purchase.

Miller said a Florida man has called county offices several times seeking property assignments, as has a man from Columbus. When property owners get a letter advising them of such requests, it often prompts the owner to make payment, the treasurer said.