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County grapples with property tax dilemma

by JENNIFER PASSARO
Staff Writer | April 28, 2020 1:00 AM

The Kootenai County Board of Commissioners, as well as Treasurer Steve Matheson and Chief Deputy Treasurer Laurie Thomas, are making plans for 2019 property tax payments.

Commissioner Chris Fillios said the county has received inquiries, largely from the small business community, regarding property tax payments in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Several business owners have asked for extended deadlines, forgone penalties or interest for delayed payments, or cancellation of 2019 property taxes altogether.

“We have about 83,000 taxable parcels in the county,” Commissioner Leslie Duncan said. “It’s estimated that 60% pay their taxes in person, instead of through mortgages.”

Duncan was concerned that issuing a blanket order on property tax payments would hurt the 44 taxing authorities whose revenue is collected through the county tax bill.

“They are not in the position of Kootenai County, with two months cash reserve,” Duncan said.

“We have a lot of taxing districts that rely on that July receipt for their payrolls and their bond payments,” Thomas said.

Thomas said a blanket forgiveness or extended tax payment deadline could put other taxing districts at risk.

“Anything we do here has significant ramifications on our collection process,” Matheson said.

Duncan said she’d rather wait until June 30 to decide about late payment penalties.

“I’m really concerned that doing it right now, people would get the misunderstanding that they can take their time and not do this,” Duncan said.

Commissioner Bill Brooks said commissioners, by statute, don’t have the authority to en masse forgive interest and penalties. Instead, the county has based tax forgiveness on individual hardship cases for over 20 years.

“Since the stimulus checks hit on the 15th, we’ve been pretty busy with people coming in and paying the second half of their tax bill with their stimulus check,” Thomas said. “It’s been kind of refreshing. They’ve said we’ve got it and we want to make sure our taxes are paid.”

Matheson said the county is prepared to handle dozens, but not hundreds or thousands of hardship cases.

The BOCC set a meeting date for late June to revisit the subject.

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Matheson