The Fayette County commissioners focused this week on how far the county has fallen behind in distributing $5.26 million from annual free-and-clear and upset tax sales and what they’re doing to ensure it doesn’t fall behind again.
The county accrued the deposits from 2011 through 2018, officials said.
“What it appears to have been is costs associated with the tax sales and the tax claim bureau’s administration of those tax sales were being paid from the tax sale distribution account,” Assistant Solicitor Tim Witt said.
An audit submitted in 2018 noted expenses already spent out of the sales fund must be transferred from the general fund to the sales fund.
Commissioner Vincent A. Vicites said Witt started working on tax sale distributions in 2017 shortly after he was hired and asked him to speak about the issue, which Commissioner Angela M. Zimmerlink drew attention to on her blog in recent weeks.
“(T)he monies that were in that account that was used for other expenses, if it wasn’t to be used, we need to put that back ASAP so we can make the distributions in those years,” Zimmerlink said.
Witt said he was preparing property tax sale information sheets for each property and noted the county would reduce costs associated with the process with moves like cutting back on paperwork for the petitions and forgoing certified mail in addition to enforcing a statutory 5% commission for conducting the tax sales that the county did not previously collect.
“Why we didn’t take (the commission) before, we don’t know,” said county Solicitor Jack Purcell, who took that role in August 2016. “We can’t figure that out.”
Purcell said he and Witt also act as solicitors for various county municipalities. Combined, he said, they represent about one third of them.
“So we hear it from our municipalities too, ‘When’s our tax money coming?’” Purcell said.
The next step, Witt said, is presenting the 2011 free-and-clear sale distributions in court for approval next week. That will be followed by a 30-day period for objections to distribution amounts and mailings of the judge’s order and property distribution sheets to the former property owners and purchasers of the 155 parcels on the list for that year.
The county should receive roughly $111,000 from the $476,535 to be distributed, a total that will go back into a tax sale distribution fund, Witt said.
“(I)t’s my understanding that for 2017 and 2018, there’s going to be an adjustment where the funds that were taken out to pay general expenses are going to be put back in to replenish the funds for those years,” Witt said. “And then for 2011 through 2016, all of these sales, all of the distributions that will be going to the county are going to go back into that fund, because once again, funds were taken from that fund, and these are just basically reimbursements from the county.”
Witt said the county would be able to cover the 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2017 free-and-clear sales and 2011, 2012 and 2013 upset sales as well as additional sales beyond those.
“All of the county’s distributions from all of these tax sales will just continue to be put back in that (tax sale) account, so the benefit of that is that continues to have funds coming in to offset some of the funds going out,” Witt said.
Witt said county officials chose to initially skip squaring away the 2014 through 2016 free-and-clear sales to figure out the totals for 2017 first because “we wanted to create a point where, going forward, we weren’t going to continue to fall behind.”
Witt said property tax sale distribution sheets still need to be generated by the tax claim bureau for those 2014-2016 sales.
Zimmerlink supported releasing the distributions to municipalities, school districts and other would-be recipients in chronological order.
“(T)hey’ve been waiting in line,” she said.
She said an audit of the county tax claim fund for 2017 is not yet complete but would be done early next month.
“I’m going to assume in the audit that they’re not going to find any issues with my figures, but I do plan on discussing issues that are identified in that audit as they might affect the distribution process,” Witt said. “ … If there’s anything additional that’s integrated as a result of the audit, there’s no problem. We can do that.”