COLUMBIANA CO. Help paying taxes is offered

Hundreds of taxpayers already are taking advantage of the payback program.
LISBON -- Concerned that some Columbiana County delinquent taxpayers are unnecessarily risking loss of their homes and property, county Treasurer Linda Bolon wants them to know help is available.
That help is in the form of a payment program that allows delinquent property taxes to be paid in installments and stops penalties and interest on the late taxes from accruing further.
The problem is that few taxpayers are aware of the program, and their tax debt gets to the point where they can't afford to pay, Bolon said.
To better inform people of the program, Bolon said, she is beginning to send notices to taxpayers as soon as they begin falling behind on their property taxes.
In 2001, the county took in nearly $46.1 million in property tax revenue, much of which went to area school districts.
Delinquent taxes: Last year's revenue included nearly $1.6 million in payments on delinquent property taxes. Even so, delinquencies at the end of 2001 stood at about $2 million.
The county wants to recover as much of the delinquent taxes as possible, preferably without having to foreclose on delinquent properties and auction them for taxes at a sheriff's sale.
In 2001, 49 foreclosure actions were filed. There were 37 in 2000.
Avoiding foreclosures: The payment program, instituted by the state nearly 20 years ago, can help delinquent taxpayers avoid foreclosures.
The notices Bolon is sending will advise them that help is available through the payment program and that they should take advantage of it as soon as possible.
"It's good for people to know there is a way to work through their problem," Bolon said.
"We don't want to take people's homes. But we do want people to pay their fair share," she added. "It's an obligation that people have as citizens to pay their taxes."
Nearly 500 county taxpayers are currently in a payment program. But Bolon said she believes the number would be higher if more people were aware it exists.
Through the program, taxpayers who are behind can get on a payback schedule that gives them up to five years to make good on their debt.
The payments are attached to the two annual property tax billings.
One of the requirements of the payment plan is that participants stay current on their twice-yearly tax bills and not fall further behind.
To learn more about the program, call the treasurer's office.

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