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Bill allows partial payments of late property taxes

Property owners who fall behind on their tax payments will have an easier time catching up under legislation signed by Washington’s governor earlier this month.

Spokane County Treasurer Rob Chase said the bill will allow property-tax payers to make partial payments for the first time to get themselves out of a tax hole.

Penalties of 11 percent in the first year of delinquency and 12 percent annual interest on the unpaid amount would still apply.

The bill originally sought to delay penalties for one year, but that element was removed from the measure.

The bill that takes effect in 2015 is only part of Chase’s reform agenda for property taxes.

Chase has been pushing for easing the penalties and interest on overdue tax accounts because the amounts charged against property owners are excessive, he said.

For years, treasurers have been barred from accepting anything less than full payment of a year’s taxes.

Taxpayers or mortgage companies must submit half of a year’s taxes in April and the other half by the end of October. Missing those deadlines can be costly.

On a $150,000 home, the combination of penalties, interest and potential foreclosure costs could be as much as $2,000 for each year payments are missed.

People who lose their jobs, have health crises, live on retirement income or work seasonal jobs are among the property owners who might benefit from being able to make partial payments, Chase said.

They would reduce interest penalties with their partial payments and could whittle away at the full amount through regular partial payments.

“Their misfortunes shouldn’t be a cash cow for the county,” Chase said.

The county collects $4 million a year in tax penalties and interest.

The county would still collect much of the same amount because penalties and interest charges will remain in effect under the recently signed legislation.

Debbie Gehret, tax collection supervisor, said she has had to tell many people over the years that partial payments are not accepted. She said she has listened to property owners in tears over the possibility of foreclosure.

“To finally be able to have hope for people is the best,” she said.

The bill was opposed by the state County Treasurers Association. County governments have become reliant on funding from tax penalties and interest, which were implemented in 1982.

Spokane County has about 12,000 delinquencies each year, or about 5 percent of the total. Most of those delinquencies are repaid, sometimes by family members. But property owners can lose their homes when they sell the property to raise money for taxes.

Last winter, more than 30 properties went to the county’s annual foreclosure auction. The county refunds any amount from the sale that is above the amount of back taxes, penalties, interest and foreclosure charges.

Chase, a Republican, is now in the fourth year of his first term in office and faces an apparent re-election challenge this fall.

State public disclosure records show that Mary L. Kuney has filed paperwork to run for treasurer on the Republican side, while Amy C. Biviano is running as a Democrat.

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