Tax Clerks Knock On Doors Looking for $1.3M

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - More than one million dollars of money meant to keep your family safe is nowhere to be found. The Madison County Tax Collector is searching for it in places you probably drive by every single day. WHNT NEWS 19 hit the road with county tax clerks to find out how.

Madison County dispatchers answer thousands of calls for help each year. Keeping deputies, firefighters and HEMSI going costs millions.

Lynda Hall distributes money to all Madison County agencies.

"I collect property taxes and disburse them," said Hall.

Hall and her co-workers in the tax collector's office crunched the numbers for 2012 and found $1.3M in taxes have not been paid. The unpaid taxes could directly impact you and your family.

"It shorts he agencies we distribute such as schools, fire departments and different municipalities for their police protection," added Hall.

WHNT NEWS 19 hit the road with staff from the tax collector's office to see how they try to get back those delinquent taxes. They mail tax bills first, but knock on doors when that doesn't get a response.

Hall added, "We make it a point to not be aggressive. We are really doing this as a favor."

Hall told WHNT NEWS 19 more than 1,500 Madison County home and business owners are delinquent on their taxes. Tax clerks make an effort to hand-deliver the tax bills to each one. The owner of a home in McMullen Cove hasn't paid the tax bill from 2011 or 2012. The owner owes $1,300.

WHNT NEWS 19 watched a tax clerk attempt to reach the owner at home, but found the house empty.

"Is this usually how it turns out," asked WHNT NEWS 19.

Tax Clerk Brian Goodwin replied," This was in bankruptcy last year, so the bank that owns it now brought it out of bankruptcy."

Goodwin's only option is to tape the bill to the door. Next stop, the old Daimler Chrysler building on Wynn Drive. The business left Huntsville years ago, but still owes more than $126,000. There, the tax clerk's job is even harder.

"If someone comes up to it, it would be obvious the bill is there. But you can't get to a door right now. We can't pass this since it says private property or no trespassing," added Goodwin.

Over and over again, Goodwin does his best to get bills to delinquent taxpayers. He is sometimes able to talk to someone. Most of the time he's never sure if the bill gets to the person who owes money.

WHNT NEWS 19 was with Goodwin as he talked to a man outside a building on Charlotte Drive. The man owns the building, but not the business inside.

Goodwin placed a 'Warning' sign on one of the doors to the building.

"How serious is this," asked WHNT NEWS 19.

Goodwin replied, "It is serious enough to let someone know we have a lien against the assets that are in the business and no one can remove it until the lien is cleared up."

Police can charge anyone who removes the sign with a misdemeanor. When people get in over their head financially, they often avoid interacting with the tax collector's office. What you may not know is that they will work with you to set up a payment plan to take care of the debt.

Property seized or not paid is auctioned off at a tax sale. Hall says that's a last resort. Madison County got some of its money back in May by selling seized or unpaid property. It's only a fraction of what was owed.

The state gets the property when no one buys it at a tax auction. The county ends up getting zero when that happens.

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