I-TEAM: Half-billion dollars unpaid property taxes — What’s being done?

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CUYAHOGA COUNTY, Ohio -- The FOX 8 I-Team has found more than a half-billion dollars in unpaid property taxes in Cuyahoga County, and we’ve learned of a new push toward collecting some of it.

This comes as so many taxpayers have reason to worry about spikes in their property tax bills while the county is updating property values.

Monday, we saw how the County Treasurer’s Office and the County Prosecutor’s Office are teaming up to reach out to property owners way behind on their taxes through letters and direct phone calls. They’re doing it the old-fashioned way with just a handful of workers.

They make calls and send letters with a simple message. If you don’t pay up, you could end up in court. You may even have your property taken away.

Mike Sweeney, Tax Administrator, showed us, a thousand people alone owe more than $50,000 each.

Sweeney said, “We want to make your taxes a priority. We want to make sure that taxpayers take care of their obligation, their responsibility before they may go on vacation, buy that next car, etc."

Soon, if you`re behind on taxes, you may also get a knock at the door, a visit from the county to talk about it.

Meantime, the I-Team has found the county also spent a $1.5 million of your money to have a private firm collect back taxes. But in a matter of months, just a few county workers have collected almost as much as that company did in two years.

To be clear, the county is also taking several thousand property owners a year through foreclosure, putting many others on payment plans, and more. The county is not trying to collect every last dollar with letters and phone calls.

But several years ago, the county had about two-dozen workers reaching out directly to property owners like this. Slowly, that disappeared. Now, you see the move to bring back the personal touch.

You may be surprised, but some property owners have actually sent thank-you notes after being contacted to pay up, strange as that seems. Some folks, say they didn’t know about the delinquent taxes, or they had unusual circumstances, and in the end, they’re glad they had a chance to clear up the bill and hold on to their properties.

If more people saw it that way, perhaps the outstanding dollar amount wouldn’t be so staggering.

Continuing coverage here.

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