When my kids were young, they loved a book titled “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” It was a cute little story, about the consequences of a single action. (If you give the mouse a cookie, it needs a glass of milk to go with it. The mouse spills the milk, so you need a mop and bucket to clean up the mess … ) It was a little kid’s story of the domino effect.
The ongoing recession is having a similar domino affect on our little mountain community.
Over 700 property owners failed to pay their taxes this year. Collectively, they owe the county over $6 million. Subsequently, last week County Treasurer Karen Sheaffer staged the biggest tax lien sale to take place in Eagle County since 1989.
According to the local newspapers, eager investors at last week’s sale spent $4.3 million to reclaim those delinquent tax bills. In a way, they were seeking to profit off of other people’s financial misfortunes — and it is all perfectly legal and civilized.
In order to redeem their property, the owners must pay back the lien holders with 10 percent interest. That is a considerably higher rate than the local banks are offering these days on savings accounts and certificates of deposit. If the property owner fails to pay taxes for three consecutive years, the lien holder can actually acquire the property, just for paying three years of taxes. (That rarely happens. The property owners usually come up with the back-taxes before things get to that point.)
But those delinquent taxes have a lot more impact than a potential investment return bonus. When the property taxes don’t get paid, the various taxing districts in the county (towns, school district, recreation district, cemetery districts) fall short on revenues. Then they have to look into their own budgets, and do some budget cutting. Thus, somebody’s unpaid taxes on a swanky Vail mansion could mean that some employee at the county is going to get laid off of work, or that the local cemetery district can’t proceed with landscaping plans. Or, the metro district employee whose wages are frozen gives up that morning cup off coffee from the local coffee shop. The coffee shop loses customers, so it has to close. Jobs are lost, the town’s revenues are down, and the town board has to look at where to cut expenses …
It’s all connected, and we’re all feeling it. We should all be hoping that those property owners pay up their taxes.