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Spike in delinquent tax payoffs floods St. Croix treasurer

A Wall Street meltdown, slow recovery and rising unemployment over the past three years led to a sluggish economy that has directly affected St. Croix County's revenue from property taxes.

Foreclosure sales have been high for five years with little hope of a letup in sight.

But a recent turn of events was a surprise for County Treasurer Laurie Noble when a number of properties facing immanent takeover by the county paid up delinquent 2007 taxes.

Noble said, "We had a flood of activity with (the owners of) 313 properties facing tax deeds paying delinquent 2007 taxes through the first week of January."

She said 179 properties in delinquency were still on the books last week.

Noble reported in September 540 parcels were in jeopardy of ending up in foreclosure.

Since the county treasurer's office collects the taxes for 17 municipalities some heretofore revenue, probably feared uncollectable, came through.

"We paid $13 million back to municipalities last week," Noble said.

State statutes govern the process before a county takes over a parcel for delinquent taxes. It takes about three years before the county takes the property on tax deed, Noble said.

Noble's report to the County Board Jan. 4 stated that a real estate company in Atlanta, Ga., paid 2007 delinquent taxes on 256 parcels at Whispering Prairie, Fox Run and Platinum Development in New Richmond. Later 2007 payments came in for another group of parcels at Evergreen in New Richmond.

The 179 parcels still unpaid from 2007 represent some $476,943 that includes general taxes, special assessments, special charges and delinquent charges.

The county's tax bill for 2010 payable in 2011 amounts to $143,671,280 according to the treasurer's annual report. Some $25.9 million is Hudson's bill, $14.8 million for New Richmond and $6.3 million for River Falls, which is situated in two counties, among cities. The town of Hudson tops the town rolls with $12.3 million. Baldwin and North Hudson bill over $6 million each among villages.

While the flood of payments from 2007 was a bright spot for the treasurer's office, the delinquent taxes for 2008 will have to be paid up and the 179 parcels still in arrears will have to be paid up in March to avoid the tax deed process.

Noble said her office was working on payment programs with some homeowners behind in their taxes to help pay off the debt.

The St. Croix Economic Development Corporation reported last week that St. Croix County's rate of unemployment for November was 6.1%, which marked an increase from September at 5.4% and October 5.7% based on a report by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

A year ago, the county's unemployment rate was estimated at 7.3%, the report said.

Bill Rubin, executive director of the St. Croix EDC said, "Economists say the current recession started in December 2007."

The St. Croix County Sheriff's Department reported foreclosure sales up 15% in 2010 for a total 828 compared with 720 in 2009. Sheriff's records showed 188 foreclosure sales in 2006, 369 in 2007, and 553 in 2008.