Property Tax Post: County “Shame Lists” Aim to Increase On-Time Payments

To err is human, and sometimes bills slip through the cracks despite knowing the time has come to pay your tax bill and having all the mechanisms available to pay (online, by mail, in person). Misunderstandings, lost checks, and computer issues—all of these can lead to a dispute. Unfortunately, in quite a few counties, the punishment is to be publicly outed for lapse in payment.

For example, Utah County, Utah publishes delinquent taxpayers’ names in a delinquent tax list for anyone to search. I call it the “Shame List.” No one is exempt from the Shame List, it includes prominent businesses and people. Any amount of late tax can place you there.  Just recently, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Utah’s tallest building, the Wells Fargo Center, was listed for failing to pay $2.34 million on time. Utah Jazz player Gordon Hayward made the list and even Utah State Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City was named for a whopping $35.42.  In addition to being named on the list, taxpayers are subject to late penalties: Utah County imposes a 1 percent penalty on late property tax payments made after November 30th but before January 31st.  After January 31st the penalty increases to 2.5 percent, and Utah assesses interest.

Utah County is not alone. Alexandria, Virginia publishes delinquent personal property and real estate business taxpayer accounts for all taxpayers who owe $1,000 or more in delinquent taxes. Shasta County, California published a list in September 2015.  Property taxes are not the only type being reported. There are lists for income taxes, withholding tax and sales and use tax. If you owe it, there’s probably a list for it. Some counties go as far as to name the lists “Top 50” or “Top 100.” Cuyahoga County, Ohio, affectionately named their top 12 tax delinquencies “The Dirty Dozen,” who collectively owe the county over 29 million in unpaid real estate taxes.

Ed Fitzgerald, a Cuyahoga County executive indicated in a 2011 press release that the list will bring additional scrutiny to the worst tax evaders, which will eventually yield to additional revenue for schools and local governments. Policymakers who establish the lists have a common goal of bringing fairness to the taxpayers and raising revenue.

Let this serve as a warning to avoid the humiliation of being called out by your county tax collector online. Check your local assessor’s website for notice dates, set a reminder on your smart phone, share this blog with a friend whom you suspect might need help, and for goodness sake, pay your tax bill.

Continue the discussion on Bloomberg BNA’s State Tax Group on LinkedIn: Should counties publish delinquent taxpayer lists?

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By Cynthia N. Wells