Unpaid property taxes mount


As if waning taxable sales and slumping gaming revenue weren't enough, you can add Clark County property taxes to the catalog of levies feeling the economic slowdown.

Statistics from Clark County Treasurer Laura Fitzpatrick show big gains in parcels with unpaid property taxes.

The number of delinquent parcels advertised in a public notice in Wednesday's Review-Journal rose 51.2 percent when compared with the number of lots published in the paper a year ago, Fitzpatrick said Friday.

What's more, 2.3 percent of the county's properties in Wednesday's notice were in arrears, compared with 1.4 percent a year earlier.

That's $51 million -- plus $7.7 million in penalties and interest -- Clark County property owners still owe for fiscal 2007-2008, which runs from July 1 to June 30.

That could mean less money for public schools and libraries, two of the functions financed through property taxes. But Fitzpatrick said the vast majority of landowners will likely pay up quickly, so the economic impact shouldn't be significant.

If they don't portend hardships for public services, the treasurer's figures do somewhat signal the state of the local economy.

Some of the delinquencies come from mailing errors, or forgetful homeowners who didn't realize their refinancing made them, and not their bank, responsible for sending in property-tax payments. And one big builder -- the only case that's been brought to Fitzpatrick's attention -- landed on the list because of a payment-processing mistake at the county.

Many of the rest, though, face financial issues. Forty percent of property owners on Wednesday's list owned five or more delinquent parcels, a lot count that often indicates ownership by a builder, investor or bank. Just 15 percent of property owners listed a year ago owned five or more parcels. The change could come from troubles in the building and mortgage industries.

"Without going out and polling (late payers), I think the numbers are certainly reflective of the economic challenges that we've seen over the last several months," Fitzpatrick said. "Builders, developers and investors certainly have had a difficult time, as have some of the individuals experiencing challenges with (exotic) mortgages."

Astoria Homes claimed the single-biggest number of parcels on the list, with taxes due on about 1,300 pieces of property in the county.

Astoria President Tom McCormick noted it's the first time in the local builder's 13-year history that the company missed the deadline on property-tax payments.

"It's very embarrassing," he said.

But it's what happens in a credit crunch, when banks stop lending construction financing, McCormick said.

Astoria, which has eight actively selling neighborhoods in Las Vegas and five more under development, had secured agreements for construction funding from three lenders who have since decided they want out of residential real estate nationwide. Astoria officials met this week with prospective new lenders, and McCormick expects fresh funding within the next two months or so.

In the meantime, what cash flow the company has is going toward paying subcontractors "to keep everyone employed," McCormick said.

"We just got caught temporarily in a cash squeeze while the banks all sort things out," he added. "We're not worried about finding money, but the timing of it is embarrassing."

Avante Homes also owns a considerable share of properties on the treasurer's list. Avante owes levies on roughly 315 lots in its Denali subdivision at Mountain's Edge in southwest Las Vegas, as well as fees on 220 home sites in its Monticello community at Providence in northwest Las Vegas.

Avante officials didn't return a call seeking comment.

Other notables named on the past-due roster include Lennar Homes, Celebrate Homes and Vantage Lofts.

The banking sector is well-represented on the list as well. GMAC Mortgage, U.S. Bank National Association Trust, Wells Fargo and Wells Fargo National Association Trust, Citimortgage, Deutsche Bank National Trust Co. and even Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the federal mortgage guarantors that buy and sell home loans on the secondary market, all appeared on the delinquency register.

Many banks on the treasurer's list have no control over tax payments, two industry representatives said.

Teri Charest, a spokeswoman for U.S. Bank, said the delinquent parcels credited to the company fall under its trust entity, which bundles and resells home loans as securities. Trustees, though listed as owners per se, don't service the loans and thus aren't responsible for property-tax payments, Charest said.

Natalie Brown, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo, said of the bank's corporate-trust services unit: "As trustee, Wells Fargo does not have authority over how an individual loan is originated, serviced or foreclosed upon, nor do we have the authority to resolve any delinquent tax issues on these properties."

So where a banking trust company is named on the treasurer's list, the servicer who's supposed to make the tax payments remains anonymous.

Property owners have until June 2 to pay their taxes. If they don't come up with the cash, the clock starts ticking on a redemption period that gives them two more years to make good on the debt, plus penalties. Owners who still can't deliver a payment in two years will lose their property to an auction.

Fitzpatrick said few parcels ever go to auction. In the last decade, the county has collected on 98.3 percent to 99.3 percent of back property taxes annually, with as much as 75 percent of levies owed taken in by the end of December. At the county's April auction, just six properties went on the auction block.

Given the funding pinch builders and consumers alike are feeling, Fitzpatrick said the collection rate could drop a little this year, as financing is tougher to find. But any such trend should be slight, if it materializes at all, she said.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.

TAXING SITUATION IN CLARK COUNTY

Delinquent parcels up
Fiscal year*Delinquent parcels
2007-200832,626
2006-200721,581


Multiple-property delinquencies rise
Fiscal year*Share of owners with 5+ delinquent parcels
2007-200840%
2006-200715%


Percent of delinquent taxes increases
Fiscal year*Total leviedTotal delinquentPercent delinquentPenalties owed
2007-2008$2.2 billion$51 million2.3%$7.7 million
2006-2007$1.9 billion$27.8 million1.4%$4 million


Few parcels make it to April auction three years later
YearParcels with final 90-day notice Parcels sold at public auction
20081066
2007747
20061445


*Fiscal year runs July 1-June 30.
Source: Clark County Treasurer's Office