Clearing up tax sale problems ­— sort of

Published 10:52 am Thursday, August 20, 2015

Warren County at a yet undecided date will apologize to taxpayers after a lot of confusion over the annual tax sale. It’s the right move following a mistake, but I don’t think most people understand what that mistake was.

The problem wasn’t with the rolls. Everyone listed in tax sale rolls published in the Aug. 10 edition of this newspaper was technically late paying their taxes. County property taxes are due Feb. 1.

“If they were coming in July to pay taxes, they still were late. It does not change the validity of the sale,” Tax Collector Antonia Flaggs-Jones told the Board of Supervisors this week in a lengthy apology and explanation.

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So if everyone whose name was listed in the advertisement had delinquent taxes at one point, what’s the problem? Tradition and a guarantee the county couldn’t keep.

Though taxes are due in February, most people are under the assumption that the annual payment is “not late” as long as it is received by Aug. 1, District 5 Supervisor Richard George pointed out during the meeting.

In reality, taxpayers have until the morning of the tax sale to redeemed their property, and there is typically a long line in the Tax Collector’s office that day. That doesn’t change the fact the taxes are late.

This tradition led to an advertisement published twice in June in The Vicksburg Post telling those with delinquent taxes they not be listed in the annual tax sale legal ad if they paid property taxes by July 15.

The Tax Assessor’s Office tried to make this guarantee a reality, but the computer system would not allow them to change the cutoff date, Flaggs-Jones said.

“We should not have tried to guarantee that,” she told the board.

I agree. Promising something that the county wasn’t sure it could deliver is never a good idea. Flaggs-Jones said the guarantee would never be made again. Supervisors also felt it was for the best.

After a bit of tense discussion, the board decided to list the names of those who had paid their taxes — albeit late — before the advertised deadline.

The inclusion of the names was the most contentious point of the meeting. I think they made the right decision, but only because of the guarantee they made. This time the apology and the names were needed, but they cannot regularly apologize to everyone who pays their taxes late but not too late.