The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

July 22, 2013

Delinquent-tax list more than watercooler talk

The Tribune-Democrat

— You can bet that among the most-thoroughly-read pages in our July 16 edition were two in our Classifieds section listing Cambria County’s delinquent-tax properties.

It’s human nature to intently examine the notices published each year by the county’s tax claim bureau. We want to scan the names of the individudals, organizations and businesses in arrears. The listings are of properties at least two years delinquent.

But as taxpayers, we should be more than just nosey. Our interest should be of concern for the financial welfare of our county and local governments and our local school district, all of which get shares of the property-tax money.

Annual budgets are based, in part, on the anticipated payments of tax bills, and when those estimates come up short – in this year’s case, severely short – plans are stressed and the process snowballs.

The receiving entities might, for example, delay paying some of their vendors, casting a bad light on them.

Particularly bad news this time around, our Kathy Mellott reported on our front page, is that there are about 200 more properties on the list than there were in 2012. Of the 1,608 parcels, the largest percentage by far are residential.

The property with the highest amount of taxes due – $178,064 – is Breakthrough Enterprises, 307 Vine St. in downtown Johnstown, a structure that formerly housed the American Red Cross and is now in private ownership.

The total due reflects taxes dating back to 2010.

The good news is that history tells us only about a quarter of the total will still be on the auction block when the delinquent-property sale opens on Sept. 9.

For some property owners, and for various reasons, delaying tax payments is almost tradition.

Property owners were given until the last minute to avoid the July 16 newspaper listings, Joanne Ranck, director of the county tax claims bureau, told Mellott.

“I was expecting people to be lined up at the counter,” she said of the final day. That didn’t happen to the extent as in previous years.

Aug. 2 is the last day to pay to avoid sheriff department postings. And those who don’t pay before Sept. 9 risk losing their properties.

And that, too, would be a shame.

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