Las Vegas Sun

July 23, 2017

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Pay your property taxes … or else what?

It’s time to pay up.

Clark County property tax bills hit mailboxes this month.

The annual bill, if not necessarily enjoyable, is necessary — money collected pays for schools, roads, police and fire protection and other services. But each year, a small group of scofflaws choose not to pay.

The group of delinquent taxpayers owns nearly 18,000 parcels, about 2.5 percent of the 728,000 properties in Clark County. The amounts owed range from $4.01 to $660,000.

When are the bills due?

The county allows property owners to pay bills all at once or in four installments. Each bill must be paid within 10 days of the deadline, or the county assesses a penalty. Tax bills are mailed only once a year.

• First payment due: Aug. 18

• Second payment due: Oct. 6

• Third payment due: Jan. 5, 2015

• Fourth payment due: March 2, 2015

How do they figure out how much I owe?

Calculating property taxes is complicated. First, a home is assigned a taxable value that is roughly equal to its market value based on its last sale and recent sales of nearby homes. Then, that value is multiplied by 35 percent to calculate the property’s assessed value. Finally, the assessed value is multiplied by the tax rates for the area the property is in to get the final bill. Tax rates are set in June of each year.

What happens if I don’t pay?

If you fall behind on your property tax payments, expect the county to be in touch. The treasurer’s office sends out notices through certified mail demanding delinquent account holders to pay up. Each missed payment results in a penalty of 4 to 7 percent.

In May, the county publishes a public notice in the newspaper listing all delinquent property tax accounts, who owns the properties and how much they owe. The notice is meant to inform people they’re behind on their taxes, but it also adds an element of public shaming. More than half of them pay their back taxes within two months, according to the treasurer’s office.

What happens if I still don’t pay?

If seeing your name in the paper doesn’t work, maybe escalating costs will.

If an account still is unpaid at the end of the year, the county starts charging an interest rate of 10 percent annually. Once interest starts accruing, property owners have two years to pay in full or risk losing the property to foreclosure.

If the bill still is unpaid, the county will issue a deed for the property that allows the land to be sold at public auction. If that happens, the county takes what it’s owed in back taxes, penalties and interest from the proceeds. The remainder, minus a small administrative fee, can be claimed by the original property owner. If it isn’t claimed after a year, the money goes into the county’s general operating fund.

Why don’t people pay?

Clark County Treasurer Laura Fitzpatrick said many delinquent property owners file for bankruptcy and continue to accrue back taxes as proceedings drag on. Other times, a property owner might not have enough cash on hand when the bill is due but pays at a later date. Sometimes, bills get sent to the wrong address or mistakenly thrown out by the owner.

“On occasion, there are people who just ignore anything that looks like it’s coming from a tax collector,” Fitzpatrick said.

During the boom years of the mid-2000s, Fitzpatrick heard stories of developers intentionally skipping their property tax payments to invest the money elsewhere, she said.

“They figured they could make more investing that money than what they were going to have to pay in penalties or interest to the county,” she said. “But it’s not like they’d pick up the phone to tell us this.”

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