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Don’t let costs be a barrier to automated tax auctions

St. Clair County Treasurer Charles Suarez continues to use cost as the biggest barrier for not automating delinquent property tax sales. “I doubt very seriously the county picks up the cost,” he said.

It’s time to bust that myth. The county wouldn’t have to pay anything if it followed Madison County’s example. Madison County paid $10,646 this year to a private contractor for its tax auction, but the costs were more than covered by a fee assessed for each parcel sold.

There are other potential benefits. It would reassure the public that the process is fair, and that certain buyers aren’t getting favorable treatment at the taxpayers’ expense as happened in Madison County. Automating the auctions there has resulted in lower interest costs charged by the tax buyers. If that were also St. Clair County’s experience, it would mean lower payments by the property owners who redeem their taxes. The interest rates double charged by the tax buyers double at various points if taxes aren’t redeemed immediately, so even a percentage point difference can mean substantial relief for distressed homeowners.

To recap: No costs to the county taxpayers and lower costs to the property owners. What’s not to like about automated tax sales? The county gets paid the taxes owed under either system.

The people benefiting by sticking with the low-tech method are the tax buyers who can continue to collect higher interest rates. Is that the real reason Suarez is resisting change, to help them?