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Auction called off: County says no tax foreclosures planned

COUPEVILLE — For perhaps the first time in Island County history, the county will not auction away the properties of people who have not paid their back taxes.

More than a dozen properties are usually put on the auction block each year after property owners fail to pay their taxes for three years running.

This year, however, the auction has been cancelled. County Treasurer Linda Riffe said it’s because of the work of tax foreclosure deputy Jill Smith.

“She was just amazing this year,” Riffe said. “She just really worked hard tracking people down, even to the point of calling people overseas.”

“She tracked down a guy all the way back to the Philippines who hadn’t been found in years,” Riffe added.

Smith also went the extra mile, the treasurer said, by telling property owners about outside resources that could help them resolve their overdue tax bills.

“She did everything she could to help people,” Riffe added.

The numbers of delinquent properties have been declining steadily since Riffe took office.

“Each year, we’ve gotten fewer and fewer and fewer,” Riffe said.

Historically, the number of delinquent property tax accounts starts out at about 250 properties as county employees work though the list and try to work with property owners to retire their tax debts. The number drops to double digits as the foreclosure process officially begins. Near the end of the process, when the properties are publicly listed and the auction is scheduled, the number of properties up for auction usually totals about 17 or so.

“And that’s after calls, certified letters, and other contacts with people to help them salvage their properties,” Riffe said.

The types of properties that become subject to foreclosure vary.

“It’s a wide range — anything from half-million dollar homes to undeveloped properties, to strips of land that are easements along the waterfront,” Riffe said.

Foreclosure auctions are typically held each January. Riffe said the auction won’t be held in 2008, and it’s likely the first time in county history where an auction hasn’t been necessary.

Riffe said the treasurer’s office has been increasingly vigilant in collecting back taxes since she took office five years ago.

Back then, delinquent taxes totaled approximately $6 million. By comparison, the county now is trying to collect roughly $75,000 in delinquent taxes.

Collecting taxes in a timely manner is especially important to the junior taxing districts in the county, such as the ones that pay for hospital services, fire departments and schools.

The county gets roughly 8 cents of every tax dollar collected to pay for county government; the other 92 cents goes to junior taxing districts to fund their operations, Riffe said.

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