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June 3, 2014

Automate tax auctions in St. Clair County

It looks bad that Madison County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler, A Republican, called a press conference to criticize the tax auctions conducted by his St. Clair County Democratic counterpart Charles Suarez -- especially so because Suarez' sister-in-law Marleen Suarez is Prenzler's opponent in November.

But it also looks bad that the interest rates charged delinquent taxpayers in St. Clair County spiked in 2007 and 2008 -- about 16 percent compared with 6 percent in 2006 and 8 percent to 10 percent from 2009 to 2012. The spike happened in the midst of the tax-buying scam orchestrated by former Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon. Coincidence?

And it looks bad that the Madison County tax buyers who are in jail now as part of the Bathon scandal also contributed to Suarez and St. Clair County Democrats. Another coincidence?

Madison County now conducts automated tax auctions, and Suarez should do the same. As well as eliminating the opportunity for human manipulation, automation might also mean lower interest rates for distressed property owners. Madison County's average rate at its most recent sale was just 1.5 percent, dramatically lower than St. Clair County's rates.

Suarez opposes automating the auctions because he said it would cost too much. But the cost of outsourcing could be partially offset through less work for his staff. Also outsourcing would clearly show that Suarez is serious about doing the right thing for St. Clair County residents, and that would be money well spent.

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