"On July 10, the county submitted its list of 238 delinquent properties with three more years taxes due to the state," Chief Deputy Treasurer Beverly Calaway told commissioners. "We have collected 41 of those, but had to refuse payment from 14 property owners, who wanted to make partial payments on their accounts. Please keep in mind that many are very low income or unemployed, have medical or financial hardships. They have been instructed to contact the property tax division in Santa Fe to advise them of the options available. The only ones I know are payment in full or installments to the state, which is hard to qualify for and very strict."
The county treasurer has four issues with the change, Calaway said. The money collected in prior delinquent sales and installments has not been issued or distributed on a timely basis by the TRD as required by state law, Calaway said. Owners who have tried to contact the state have not received a timely response from the department or none at all. Information given to property owners on the current delinquent list has not been correct and added to the confusion of trying to collect the taxes, she said.
"If a property owner goes into an installment agreement for 36 months and TRD holds all the money collected, this means the entities we collect for, such as schools and the hospital, may not receive their money for up to three years," Calaway said.
"Where do we start at the top to make this go away?" asked Commission Chairman Jackie Powell. The governor is aware of the situation, Calaway said.
"We were hoping they would change their minds and see the need for county treasurers to represent the people in the counties," she said.
"They need to be able to come to local office and not one in Santa Fe."
Calaway was told the reason the TRD decided to change the approach was because some county treasurers were not adhering to the law and were making agreements on their own or not sending penalties and interest to the state.
But Lincoln County's record is spotless and all counties shouldn't be punished for the failure of a few, she said.
"We have an excellent reputation for the collections we do," she said. "A lot (of potential buyers) don't want to come here because we collect all the taxes before the sale. The state likes coming here because we have clean records from the clerk to the assessor to the treasurer's office. We do our job and do it according to law.
"I understand the (Taxation and Revenue Department and Property Tax Division) want treasurers to be consistent in the way they collect partial payments and distribute penalties and interest to the state, but we look at it that we are doing the job correctly. Tax and revenue reviewed all our records two years ago and said we're doing an outstanding job. Don't penalize all for the few who don't follow the law."
Commissioner Mark Doth said legislators need to be told to change the law if the state won't back down. The governor also could step in and talk to her appointed department secretary.
"I believe that's where it's headed," Calaway said. "(Robbins) does not believe any state department can work with or help property owners in the county any better than we and she thinks it is a disservice to tell them they must call Santa Fe and work with them."
Notices about contacting the state if full payment is not submitted are being included in delinquent tax bills, she said.
"What a mess," Doth said. "And it wasn't broken."
County Assessor Paul Baca attested to the efficiency and diligence of the treasurer's clerks. County Manager Nita Taylor said the local office could better serve property owners and guarantee a continuous flow of money to taxing entities in a timely manner. "That's a concern," she said. "If we don't have the money, the taxing entities don't get theirs. I like the idea of strongly worked letter to be sent right away."
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