By BOB PALMER
Jimplecute News Editor
JEFFERSON – You probably paid your property taxes before the January 31 deadline, but Lodi Drilling and Service Corp. didn’t, and they owe more than $55,000 according to records obtained by the Jimplecute from the Marion County Tax Assessor’s office.
Billy C. Gasperson’s past due tax bill of $27,000 also came to light from information the Jimplecute obtained through a Texas Public Information Act request.
Lodi Drilling and Gasperson lead the list of property owners who have failed to pay their taxes for seven years.
Total taxes that continue to be unpaid to the city, school and county exceeds $9 million in taxes and fees as of February 3.
Texas law allows the county to seize and sell property to satisfy delinquent tax bills.
Some of the tracts, however, have not had property taxes paid on them since 1999 and before.
“It is very hard to identify properties in Marion County,” Karen Jones, county tax assessor and collector, said.
Jones said difficulty in determining ownership of property in cases with multiple heirs and errors by the appraisal district or her office compound the problem.
Jones cited a case where a person inherited property but the Marion Central Appraisal District had the house on the wrong parcel.
Collection efforts had to halt, until the problem was remedied.
Jones has also learned that because the county can seize a property doesn’t mean that it is a good idea.
Jones was concerned about not being able to sell property that was delinquent.
“We would be doing damage to the intenties,” Jones said.
“We have struck off property that nobody wants,” Jones said. “We can’t give it away.”
Jones related an anecdote of lots that routinely flooded willed to a local church. The church could not use the property and did not want to pay taxes on it.
“I had to sue God,” Jones joked.
Marion County took the property, but has been unable to sell it.
Jones has found another way to bring pressure on a delinquent taxpayer.
She noted that while state law does not prohibit a delinquent taxpayer from holding office, she has voiced objections to the county hiring someone in arrears.
“I raised my hand and said how can you pay him with county tax dollars when he owes $25,000 in delinquent tax dollars,” Jones said. “The next day he showed up and paid the taxes.”
Property taxes can also be deferred in certain circumstances.
“A tax deferral stops all collection efforts dead in their tracks,” Jones explained. Taxes on a person’s homestead can be deferred if the owner is disabled, over 65 or a disabled veteran, according to state law.
A check of the tax roll showed more than $250,000 deferred base property taxes due from 1999 through 2019. The amount is still less than 3 percent of the total tax base.
“I have a tax code. I am the enforcer of the tax code,” Jones said. “I have a responsibility to the tax jurisdictions and the taxpayers. I am going to make a decision that is best for you as a taxpayer and the tax jurisdictions. Those two benefits sometimes collide and that’s where the tax code comes in.”
Those seeking handicapped deferrals must present documents from the Social Security Administration or Veterans Administration.
Jones noted that if the property owner files for bankruptcy, collection efforts will be halted.
BILLS OWED CITY, SCHOOL, COUNTY
A Jimplecute analysis of the unpaid property tax bills for the years 1999–2019 showed Jefferson ISD owed $4.7 million for the Maintenance and Operations Fund. The Interest and Sinking Fund was due $179,000.
JISD Superintendent Rob Barnwell is well aware what this money could mean.
“Obviously, a lot can be done with that sort of ‘extra’ revenue,” Barnwell said. “Our delinquent tax attorneys do a great job of helping us in that regard. Budgets are tight every year, so if our delinquent taxes were minimal, we’d surely have more flexibility in what we are able to do for our students and staff.”
Unpaid property taxes for the same period to the City of Jefferson came to more than $280,000.
Jefferson Mayor Charles “Bubba” Haggard also would appreciate the additional funds.
“This money could be used for almost anything the council wanted to do with it, but I would hope we would do more infrastructure projects” Haggard said. “The delinquent taxes are a responsibility of our attorney and tax collector which is Tab Bell and Karen Jones and I would hope they are doing everything they can to collect these funds.”
Marion County was owed almost $2.3 million. The Hospital District was due nearly $330,000 and the county Lateral Road and Bridge Fund over $340,000.
The total of unpaid taxes and fees for all entities from 1999–2019 came to over $9 million.
The Jimplecute reached out by email to County Judge Leward LaFleur for comment on this story but had not received a reply by press time.
WHY NOT PAY
Jones said the most common reason people have not paid their taxes is financial.
“A lot of reasons I hear on a daily basis are medical issues,” Jones said. “You have been diagnosed with cancer or your medicine is more than your income. They don’t have the money to pay (property taxes) in those kinds of circumstances.”
Jones can understand special circumstances.
“There are hardships out there that are legitimate and verifiable,” Jones said. “We have to weigh compassion over necessity.”
Jones says that when dealing with those in financial straits she tells them what the law allows.
Two persons named on the delinquent roll were willing to discuss the matter.
Thresa Mayfield said she was unaware that property taxes were owed on her residence 12 years ago when she received it from her father.
“I pay my current taxes first, then pay on the back,” Mayfield said.
Jones admitted that an appraisal error on the Mayfield property contributed to the error.
Mayfield believes the appraisal is still not right.
“They consider me lakefront property, and I can’t see the lake,” Mayfield said.
“We were behind on one of our properties,” the owner said. “We went ahead and paid the taxes in full. We went back to pay the current year taxes and they said, ‘no, no you still owe $1,200.’”
What happened to the missing payment was never resolved.
“They still didn’t give us credit for our money,” the business owner said. “That happens a lot up there.”
Repeated attempts by the Jimplecute to contact other delinquent taxpayers were unsuccessful. Few on the list had Jefferson telephone numbers. Telephones for Peebles Lumber Company in Ore City, which owes more than $15,000, were no longer working, and the company was reported to be out of business.
The top 10 delinquent taxpayers in Marion County as of February 3 for the 1999–2016 period are:
1. Lodi Drilling and Service Corp. ($55,000)
2. Billy C. Gasperson ($27,000)
3. Indian Hills Resort ($23,000)
4. McCoy E M Estate ($18,000)
5. James Stone A Estate ($16,000)
6. Rebecca K. Johnson ($16,000)
7. Anderson Lang ($15,000)
8. Peebles Lumber Company, LLC ($15,000)
9. Peggy Lundy ($13,000)
10. Andrew Johnson Estate ($13,000)
The list above does not include penalties and interest, taxpayers who have received deferments or whose accounts have errors from the tax or appraisal office.
“We wanted to avoid publishing names of delinquent taxpayers if there was any question about the validity of their status with the Marion County tax office or they were simply having short-term financial challenges,” Jimplecute Publisher Mica Wilhite said.
An account labeled “Unknown” has a balance over $100,000 because the property has no known owner.
“The James Stone A Estate has multiple heirs and we have to pull in genealogy information to determine ownership,” Jones explained. The tax office labels it as having “horrific title” challenges.
Attempts to contact Lodi Drilling and Service Corp. and Gasperson for comment were unsuccessful.
Anyone wishing to check their property tax bill can visit the Tax Assessor and Collector’s website http://www.MarionCountyTaxOffice.com.
Jones said that in some situations she allows the delinquent taxes to be resolved through a payment plan.
“Good people can get in trouble,” Jones said. “An option for a delinquent taxpayer is a pay agreement. If that’s your homestead, you can apply for a pay agreement and if you meet the criteria, you can get that pay agreement.”
If the property is not a person’s homestead, the payment plan becomes optional.
“If you are Joe Blow and just own some land and you apply for a pay agreement with me, I may or may not give you a pay agreement,” Jones said. “I look at those situations individually. Have they defaulted on pay agreements in the past?”
Jones is inclined to grant a pay agreement for those who have “just hit a rough patch” and need a pay agreement to get them through.
Jones points out that attempts to compare tax collections in Marion County to other counties are futile.
“There are too many factors like poverty, inherited property and the makeup of the tax roll,” Jones said. “We have the same challenges as other counties, but if you are looking at Cass County, you are looking at apples to oranges.”
“We are unique,” Jones said, but you probably did already know that.
Print Subscription for Marion County & Surrounding Counties (Online subscription included)
Your online subscription will begin immediately. Print subscription will begin in approximately 1-2 weeks. Thank you for your subscription and for reading the Jimp!