(WJW) – A FOX 8 I-Team investigation found more local leaders behind on paying their taxes.
We started digging after we recently exposed tax trouble for the mayor of Warrensville Heights.
The I-Team checked property tax records for every mayor and council member in Cuyahoga County, making up hundreds of elected officials.
They spend your money to keep the roads plowed, schools running and potholes fixed.
But, as of the beginning of February, we found 16 of those local leaders delinquent, behind on paying their own taxes.
Of that group, we noticed Euclid Councilman Marcus Epps owing the most with more than $12,000. We caught up with him before a council meeting to explain.
“I’ll just explain that briefly by saying, I’m not sure if you’re aware, but in March my house burned down. So it’s just been a struggle obviously for our family,” Epps said.
But, county records show Epps has not paid any property taxes since 2019, long before the house fire. Epps insists he has made payments although the county tells us there’s no record of that.
“I’m saying we’ve made payments since 2019,” Epps said.
But when we asked for dates of those payments, he did not provide any.
We also went to see Oakwood Mayor Gary Gottschalk. Records showed him behind nearly $5,000 in property taxes.
County records indicate he has not made a tax payment since August 2020.
The mayor says, instead of paying taxes, he’s been giving money to a couple of businesspeople.
“I’ve been providing financial assistance to a couple young entrepreneurs who needed this to be able to be able to operate through these troubled times. It’s not in the form of a loan, it’s a donation,” Gottschalk said.
But, when we asked him to tell us about the business he’s helping, the mayor said, “I don’t want to divulge.”
The I-Team also asked why he thinks he has the right to decide he’s not going to pay his taxes. He answered, “Good question, but as I said, I feel badly for these struggling entrepreneurs, and I thought it was important.”
Our investigation started with the case of Warrensville Heights Mayor Brad Sellers.
The I-Team recently revealed he signed a document giving himself a break so that he wouldn’t have to pay taxes on his home for 15 years.
He had repeatedly fallen behind on his taxes. For that, he blamed a dispute with a bank. He also denied any conflict of interest giving himself a tax break on his home.
We shared our findings with Catherine Turcer. She leads the government watchdog group called Common Cause.
“We expect elected officials to pay their taxes. If they run into trouble, they need to establish a payment plan,” she said. “As an elected official, you are being paid with taxpayer money and there’s an understanding, you will also be responsible and pay your taxes.”
We found local officials behind from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars to, again, more than $12,000.
Another local mayor just paid his back taxes we had found for his property. He told us his wife handles the taxes and she said she never got that last bill.
We also found a few elected leaders behind on taxes, but making payments. So, since the records show them making an effort to catch up, we didn’t include them in our findings.
All of this left us wondering if that Euclid councilman and the Oakwood mayor will catch up.
“We’re working very hard to do so now. I think residents across our county are dealing with some of these same issues,” Epps said.
“I will be paying the obligation I have to the county by the end of April,” Gottschalk said.
Meanwhile, we reported earlier, the tax break for the Warrensville Heights mayor has been sent to the Ohio Ethics Commission for investigation. Mayor Sellers has said his law department allowed him to sign that tax break, so he felt he did it in good legal standing.
Cuyahoga County officials say, overall, slightly less than one in 10 property owners are behind on their taxes.
As for when the county might foreclose on a property, that depends on a variety of factors, including the amount of tax money owed, how long the owner has been behind and more.