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Crowded tax auction zips through properties

By Ben Graham, Jackson Hole Daily
August 15, 2013

Teton County sold nearly $146,000 in delinquent property taxes at an auction Wednesday that lasted only 30 minutes.

Just over 70 registered participants crammed into the Teton County Fair building for the chance to purchase the unpaid taxes on 40 valley parcels.

People were selected at random to pay for a property’s unpaid bill. All 40 were sold.

The largest sum paid was the $22,500 owed by actress Connie Stevens for a 5.6-acre property on Indian Springs Drive. Stevens has settled delinquent Teton County tax bills before, treasurer Donna Baur said.

The tax auction allows buyers to pay a property owner’s unpaid tax bill and place a lien on the property. Before the property can be sold, the owner has to settle the lien and any interest charged. Wyoming law allows those who pay another property owner’s delinquent taxes to charge 3 percent interest for the initial transaction and 15 percent annually per year from that point on.

At the same time, the county and state are able to collect taxes that otherwise would go unpaid.

“The whole process is to incentivize payment,” Baur said. She pointed out that state law allows companies to charge penalty interest of 18 percent a year for delinquent debts.

Baur said some property owners forget. Others wait until the last possible moment to pay. By Thursday, three owners already had cleared up their tax bills and the resulting liens.

The Teton County Treasurer’s Office manages all the paperwork. Tax buyers and owners never meet, the treasurer said.

This year’s auction total is small compared with the amount of property taxes levied across the county, which reached $65.3 million.

The number of properties at this year’s auction also was down. Last year, 49 unpaid tax bills were sold. During the height of the economic downturn, there were as many as 160 properties with outstanding taxes in the weeks leading up to the auction, Baur said.

The majority of property taxes collected in Wyoming go toward funding public schools.

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