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County's Tax Delinquency Rate Declines

September 09, 1993|MACK REED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County's tax delinquency rate has fallen for the second year in a row, as more property owners paid off longstanding tax bills to avoid high penalties, county Tax Collector Harold Pittman said Wednesday.

While about 5.48% of property taxes went unpaid in the fiscal year ending June 30, 1992, only 5.19% of the taxes that were due in the year ending June 30, 1993, went unpaid, Pittman said.

"It's nice. It makes my job easier," said Pittman, who Wednesday published a list of about 2,800 properties that have owed more than $8 million in unpaid taxes since June 30, 1992. "I'd like to take credit for it, but I don't know how I can."

Ventura County's unpaid tax burden could have worsened in the recession, but in fact it improved, he said.

Hard times ordinarily would have caused more property owners to default on their county property taxes, but Pittman speculated that some have been taking advantage of low-interest rates to refinance their houses.

Many of those were probably forced by mortgage companies to pay their back taxes before applying for second mortgages and other refinancing loans, he said.

Of the $476.4 million in county property taxes levied in fiscal year 1992-1993, about $24.7 million went unpaid. In the previous year, $24.8 million in taxes were not paid out of the $452.9 million levied by the county tax collector's office, Pittman said.

"As we all know, the economy hasn't gotten significantly better," Pittman said. "You'd think there would be a further corresponding delinquency. In other counties, it has. It must be the makeup of our county . . . We tend to be a little bit more of an affluent county, and traditionally we've had some of the lowest delinquency rates throughout the state."

Taxes are levied in semi-annual bills, with payments due Dec. 10 and April 10 every year. Last year, the county taxed 214,164 properties.

Any bills unpaid by the due dates are subject to a 10% fine, and any bill that remains unpaid after June 30, the end of the fiscal year, is subject to monthly 1.5% interest charges--a total of 18% per year, Pittman said.

But some property owners remain on the delinquency list without paying for nearly the full five years that are allowed before a delinquent property is sold at the annual tax collector's auction, with the next scheduled for early February at the County Government Center, Pittman said.

However, by the time the auction rolls around most have paid, leaving usually only 12 to 15 marginal slices of land on the block--ravines, hillsides, median strips--"those things that people feel it's just not worth it to worry about," he said.

"We take great pains to actually go out and visit every property," he added. "One of my nightmares is to auction off the person's property and then we find they haven't received word about the sale."

Nearly all property owners pay up before letting their property be sold by the county, he said. "The last thing people ignore is the tax on their home," Pittman said. "Other than their family, that's the most precious item that they own."

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