ROSS COUNTY, Ohio — The Ross County Treasurer refused to answer questions when pressed about real estate taxes arriving late to property owners — an issue that imposes late fees on anyone who does not have their bill paid on time.
The issue started becoming apparent to the public last week when property owners received their real estate taxes for the second half of the year in the mail. Much to the shock of many, when they received their letters it told them they had less than a week to pay their bills or else, they would face fines and penalties.
“We called on the first because I knew we should have had it,” said Dana Peters. “They outsourced [the billing] and obviously, they didn’t do well. They gave us the amount and said it was still due by the 8th. We got it on the 2nd in the mail. I feel bad for those who didn’t think about it.”
Under Ohio law, taxpayers are supposed to be notified 20 days before their property taxes are due. This year, taxes are due July 8 — this Friday, however, many property owners said they did not receive their bills until last week; less than a week before the due date. Despite that, though, the paperwork still said that they must still pay on time or else, they would face late fees.
“Not happy. We used to get it about a month prior to the due date,” said property owner Debra Weller.
The law, as written in Ohio, says that taxpayers are to be notified days in advance before the bills are due.
The revised code reads: “The second-half tax bill shall be mailed or delivered at least twenty days prior to the close of the second-half tax collection period. The treasurer shall maintain a record of the person or agent to whom each bill is mailed or delivered.“
Jonah Howard said that despite the deadline coming up this week, they still have yet to receive their bill.
“[It’s] annoying. [I] haven’t even gotten my second one, yet.”
Howard’s complaints seem to be a common theme in the county. Numerous people reached out to the Guardian saying that they had yet to receive their taxes as of Tuesday morning and were concerned with the deadline just three days away.
The Guardian reached out to Ross County Treasurer Dave Jeffers — a Republican who took office last year — on Friday seeking answers as to what caused the issue. By Tuesday morning, the 32-year-old did not respond to requests for comment. So, the Guardian paid him a visit at his office.
Jeffers was sitting inside his office with the door opened but refused to come out and talk to the media when he was notified by an office worker. Instead, Jeffers shouted, “I have no comment!” and the door to his office was shut.
Shortly after the Guardian’s visit, Jeffers sent an email to the Guardian but dodged the questions posed.
So, what went wrong?
While Jeffers would not answer questions about why the bills were sent late or how he was going to fix the situation, the Guardian learned through the Ross County Auditor’s Office the county recently contracted with a new vendor to mail the bills, which may have played a role in the issue.
“The Ross County Treasurer’s Office is responsible for sending the bills and collecting the taxes,” said Ross County Auditor Robyn Brewster. “For the good of Ross County, our office works closely with the Ross County Treasurer’s Office to ensure taxes are correct. We can make suggestions/recommendations to the Treasurer’s Office but the Auditor’s Office does not determine the due dates.”
Even with the new contract with the company, Brewster said her office saw the train coming.
“My office employees from the Auditor’s office had conversations with his office staff as to getting an extension,” Brewster said. She said her office sent the rolls to Jeffers in December — months in advance before the July due date. Despite that, though, the mail still went out late.
“The role of the Ross County Auditor’s Office in preparing, mailing, or delivering property tax bills is that the Auditor is the county’s chief fiscal officer and property tax assessor; our office does not prepare or mail the tax bill,” she added. “The Auditor is the statutory appraiser-in-chief of all real estate and manufactured homes in the county for tax purposes; our office does not prepare or mail the tax bills. Once property taxes have been collected by the County Treasurer, it is the Auditor who distributes those tax dollars to the appropriate city, village, township, or school district in accordance with the legally adopted rates; we do not prepare or mail the bills; our office does not prepare or mail the tax bills.”
Where do things stand?
Despite the error, Jeffers’ office maintains that taxes are still due on Friday, July 8. Some property owners the Guardian spoke with said they do not have sympathy for those who have not paid their bills, yet.
“How many years have you paid your property taxes this time of year?” asked Courtney Swallow. “You knew the bill was due regardless of when you received the mail.”
Julie Pierce agreed, but also mentioned the law requires a notice.
“According to the [law], they are supposed to be mailed no less than 20 days prior to the due date. However, failure to receive your bill does not excuse failure to pay or failure to pay on time.”
In his four-day late reply, and only after the confrontation in his office, Jeffers released the following statement to the media through email:
“In an effort to reduce costs, modernize our billing practices and increase efficiency the decision was made to move from doing the printing, stuffing, and mailing of the tax bills in-house to using an outside company, SmartBill, based in Hebron, Ohio. Working with both the county’s software company and the new billing company on some first-time setup complications, some bills were mailed later than they traditionally are mailed. Application for remission of Real Property and Manufactured Home late-payment penalties forms are available both in the office and on our website….”Dave Jeffers, Ross County Treasurer on Tuesday.
The vendor responds.
SmartBill spoke with the Guardian on Tuesday and said they were well within the agreement they made with the county. Under the contract with the county, the billing company has ten days from the time they receive the bills to turn around and mail them to taxpayers.
“The billing file was submitted to us on June 15. [The county] did not approve that file until June 16 and that starts a ten-day window for us to print them, get them stuffed, and mailed,” said SmartBill’s John Baumgartner. “Nothing that I know of that delayed this billing. We went off of when this file came in and it was approved from them, which started our clock to get them printed and out the door.”
Baumgartner said that if his office would have received the file in April, for example, the turnaround still would have been ten days.
“It doesn’t matter when we get them in. It’s typically ten business days to get them to completion from the time of approval …. I’m glad you gave us the opportunity to speak. I’m not sure why he thinks we are in delay. There is not anything on our end that I am aware of.”
Property taxes in Ross County are due this Friday, July 8.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated to include a comment from SmartBill.