Over the next few weeks, some tax delinquent Schuyler County residents will be getting a personal letter from County Treasurer Holley Sokolowski and County Attorney Steven Getman.
The message is polite and to the point: Please pay your back property taxes before February 28.
That’s the date after which, if taxes are not paid, a Schuyler County Court Judge may enter a judgment ordering the property seized and sold at public auction.
In an attempt to prevent that, Sokolowski and Getman are sending the letters, with handwritten notes on the envelopes, to approximately eighty property owners who still haven’t paid their back taxes.
“The letter reminds them of the deadline and provides options to avoid the foreclosure,” Sokolowski said. “Eligible property owners can pay the full amount due or arrange for an installment agreement.”
“It's the job of the county to collect taxes, but the main focus here is keeping people on their property and in their homes," Sokolowski said.
The letters also mention some of the services county tax dollars support, including law enforcement, public health, roads and bridges and social services.
The letters are based on research that found people are more likely to respond to personal letters and handwritten notes than to form documents, Getman said.
“A form letter may look like junk mail and get tossed,” Getman explained. “Handwriting shows the letter deserves more attention and sends a message that this is important.”
The letters are only the latest step in the county’s efforts to collect overdue taxes while keeping people in their homes.
According to Sokolowski, each November, the county mails out Foreclosure Notices and Petitions to properties with back tax liens from the prior year. Those notices go out by both regular and certified mail to property owners, mortgage holders and others with identified interests in the delinquent properties.
“The county also publishes a list of the delinquent taxes in two local newspapers and, in certain cases, posts warnings on the properties that they could be sold for back taxes,” she noted.
Only after each of those steps occurs, Getman explained, does the court enter a judgment foreclosing on the property.
After the court issues the foreclosure, the properties, if unredeemed, are sold at a public auction.
“The law requires the county to take every step to enforce the property tax laws and ensure that everyone pays their fair share,” Getman said.
"This is really just another way to do that, above and beyond what the law requires, while making sure we're keeping people in their homes and businesses."
As County Treasurer, Sokolowski is the chief fiscal officer of county government and enforcement officer for unpaid property tax liens.
As County Attorney, Getman is the chief legal advisor for county government and responsible for the prosecution and defense of civil actions brought by and against the county, including tax matters.