That boat or ATV sitting in the garage soon may become a little less fun — especially if you haven’t paid the property taxes on them.
The Douglas County Treasurer’s office is launching a program this month to collect unpaid personal property taxes. Douglas County Treasurer Paula Gilchrist said her office has hired a Tonganoxie-based law firm specializing in helping governments collect on past-due tax accounts.
“It won’t be your typical harassing, nasty type of phone calls and letters from a collection agency,” Gilchrist said. “But we do need to try to collect these taxes.”
Gilchrist said the department has 2,071 personal property tax bills that are past due. The taxes total $2.6 million, although that amount has accrued over several years.
Representatives with the Kelly Law Office soon will be sending letters to individuals and businesses that have past due taxes. Gilchrist said it has been several years — since before she started as treasurer in 2005 — that the county has employed outside attorneys to help collect tax debt.
Only taxes that are past due for personal property — items such as boats, recreational vehicles, mobile homes and some types of business equipment — will be part of the collection program. Traditional real estate taxes on homes and property are governed by separate state laws.
The attorneys will have several options available to them. The law firm will have the authority to set up payment plans for taxpayers who want to pay but are having trouble coming up with the full amount.
“We try to be easy to work with,” said Keyta Kelly, a partner with the Kelly Law Office. “We understand that this is something most people don’t want to pay, and something that can be difficult to pay. We’re not going to be dragging people into court as long as they make a good faith effort to work with us.”
But the attorneys do have the ability to file legal cases against past-due taxpayers. Past-due taxpayers can be ordered to attend a hearing in Douglas County District Court. If the taxpayer ignores the hearing, a bench warrant can be issued. In some cases, attorneys also can seek to garnish wages or bank accounts to pay past-due amounts.
Gilchrist said the Treasurer’s office has the same powers to collect past-due taxes — plus it can also send a sheriff’s deputy to your home to confiscate the property — but the office doesn’t have the staff to make such collection efforts.
“We have done so in the past, but we just don’t ever get very far down the list,” Gilchrist said. “This is a chance for us to clean-up our list.”
The law office will get paid 30 percent of the debts it collects, Gilchrist said. Gilchrist said she was uncertain how much money would be collected. She said undoubtedly some of the $2.6 million in back taxes won’t be collected.