by Aundrea Cline-Thomas
MT. PLEASANT, Tenn. – More than 1,300 people in Mt. Pleasant are one step closer to losing their home after not paying property taxes. Some have been delinquent for years and no one has done anything about it, until now.
When Michelle Williams became Mt. Pleasant's City Manager in 2012 she took a close look at the city's finances and found more $350,000 of unpaid property taxes dating back to at least 1989. That realization, among others, lead to the firing of the long time Finance Director in 2013 who is in charge of seeking payment for the unpaid taxes.
"They used to send notices around but like I said, they didn't press on you like the county did," resident Paul Williams said.
Over the years city leaders in Mt. Pleasant didn't do anything but let the debt add up.
"When you don't pay you're basically stealing city services," Williams said about the taxes that pay for police and fire protection, roads, sidewalks and other services.
Possibly for the first time in the city's history, Williams is putting delinquent homeowners on notice and reminding them there are consequences to not paying the property taxes. In response, $140,000 in back taxes were collected last year. Still more than $300,000 is outstanding from 2002 to 2012. That's why the city has taken legal action. Homeowners have less than a year to clear the debt.
"We have filed for 2002-2012," Williams said about a recent filing in Chancery Court. "That's what's scheduled now to be sold on the courthouse steps for March of 2015."
Mt. Pleasant, like many other cities, is strapped for cash.
"This commission had to make a hard choice last year and do a property tax increase," Williams said. "They had not raised property taxes in over five years."
That generated less than $200,000, far less than the outstanding property tax debt.
If everybody paid their outstanding property taxes, Williams said, "There's (would be no) property tax increase."
By law the city can't pursue back taxes that are more than ten years old. That's why it will have to write off about $25,000.
Now that Mt. Pleasant has filed with the court, delinquent homeowners will be contacted by the county. Interest is accruing daily on their outstanding debt. If it isn't settled, those homes will be auctioned off at the Maury County Courthouse on March 19, 2015.