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Helmut Schmidt, Published December 22 2009

Cass County Commission votes down break for unpaid property taxes

People who didn’t pay their Cass County property taxes in 2005, 2006 and 2007 won’t get a break on the interest and penalties.

The County Commission voted 5-0 on Monday against waiving nearly $320,000 in interest and penalties owed on the unpaid taxes.

Leading up to the vote, commissioners sought reassurances from county staff that they would work with people facing hardships to keep them in their homes.

“I’m concerned about those hardship cases,” Commissioner Ken Pawluk said. “I don’t want to give relief to anyone who’s just a serial nonpayer of taxes,” he said.

“We don’t want to take people’s homes,” said County Treasurer Charlotte Sandvik, who added her office works with taxpayers in need.

Fairness for those who paid taxes on time or with penalties was important to keep in mind, said County Auditor Mike Montplaisir.

Commissioner Scott Wagner said most of those who didn’t pay their taxes on time were developers or rental property owners.

Wagner said he received “a resounding amount” of feedback from the public against waiving the interest and penalties due.

The vote was a turnaround from Nov. 16, when three commissioners voted against a motion that would also have expressly denied a waiver of interest and penalties.

But without approving any other motion, county policy remained unchanged, meaning interest and penalties would have been collected despite how commissioners voted.

Montplaisir said the issue needed to be clarified before collections could begin.

The county will seek to collect $3.6 million in property taxes and special assessments between now and Oct. 1, county officials said.

A change in state law cut the grace period from five years to three years for delinquent property taxes and assessments. While the county normally collects one year of overdue taxes annually, this year it will collect for three years to catch up collections with the new grace period.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583