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Wright County News

Posted on: May 12, 2020

Auditor/Treasurer Discusses First Half Property Taxes, Which Are Due Friday

As Wright County and the rest of the world continues to try to get back to business as usual, some things remain in place and on schedule, among those being first-half property tax payments – which are due by Friday, May 15.

Last month, Wright County agreed to assist those who are struggling to make ends meet due to many businesses being shut down or limited in their operations by reducing the penalty for late tax payments to 1 percent. While some counties are charging no penalty, Wright County Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala said the 1 percent penalty may be enough to get those who can make their payments on time to do so because many cities and school districts rely on the first-half tax payments to keep their cash flow available.

“We are in charge of the penalty rate,” Hiivala said. “Wright County recognized the importance of collecting taxes on behalf of the municipalities. Therefore, we lessened the penalty rate down to 1 percent regardless of the class rate. Commercial property pays a higher penalty rate than residential. If you paid your residential property tax late, you were charged a 2 percent penalty. We kept the rate at 1 percent through the end of May and all of June.”

After June 30, the penalty rate will increase to 2 percent and, after July 31, the rate will revert to state guidelines for each classification – as high as an 8 percent penalty.

Hiivala said there are concerns that some will simply delay paying their property taxes because of the low penalty rate, but added that those that aren’t feeling an immediate hardship are likely to make their payments as usual.

“There are concerns for short-term cash flow purposes, but chances are if you own a piece of property, you’re probably not going to let it go tax forfeit,” Hiivala said. “Almost everyone will pay the taxes eventually. In order to encourage as many on-time payments as we could, that’s why we said there would be a penalty. If you’re a business owner and you can save $300 by paying on time, most will do that. But, if you’re in a situation where you really can’t pay it, we didn’t want to penalize you without setting a precedent. We didn’t want to penalize you out of your property.”

One advantage the county has in order to get the majority of property tax payments in on time is that many mortgages and lease agreements include property taxes as part of their monthly payments.

“Countywide, about 40 percent of our parcels are escrowed,” Hiivala said. “We’ll get those payments in on time. It’s only 40 percent of the total, but it’s a good base number of parcels to start with, along with those who plan to pay on time anyway.”

Many choose to make their payments in person at the Auditor/Treasurer’s office in the Wright County Government Center. While technically that is still possible via drop boxes, Hiivala points out that there are alternative payment options with the customer windows closed to the public.

“There are still methods to pay property taxes without the public counters being open,” Hiivala said. “You can still mail your tax payment into us. You can go on the county website and pay us electronically, but there is a small fee to do that. We also have drop boxes set up outside our office for those who want to make their payments directly to us at the Government Center.”

It is unclear how many people will temporarily go delinquent when Friday’s first-half property tax deadline comes and goes, but Hiivala said he is confident that the vast majority of property taxes will be collected – just some later than usual.

“These are unprecedented times,” Hiivala said. “We understand that a lot of people are facing financial difficulties. We hope this change to our system will allow those people to have the opportunity to pay their taxes when they’re better equipped to do so. We expect to collect almost all of the taxes that are due, just not all on May 15.”

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