A quick ride through the city of Girard’s central business district will rapidly drive home the point that tax evasion can hardly be considered a victimless crime.
In Girard, like other communities throughout the Mahoning Valley, one sign of the toll of tax cheats can be viewed in the growing assortment of abandoned, blighted and unsightly commercial structures that lower overall property values and discourage new investment.
Those unpleasant realities have sparked a movement in Girard, spearheaded by members of city council’s zoning committee and supported by Mayor James Melfi and other city leaders, to crack down on commercial property tax delinquents as one workable tool to help revitalize the city.
As Vindicator Reporter Samantha Phillips wrote in a featured Page 1 story in Sunday’s Vindicator, Girard plans to act as aggressively as it can to recoup approximately $250,000 in delinquent commercial property taxes, many of them on former downtown businesses and some of them dating as far back as 2005.
We applaud their efforts and urge officials of other communities as well as county treasurers in the Valley to follow their get-tough lead.
Girard councilwoman Fran Wilson, who also is chairwoman of the zoning committee, stated the problem succinctly: “We know there are taxes out there that aren’t being paid, and the owners of these buildings, they keep them year after year, but they aren’t paying taxes on them. That’s where we are getting upset.”
Wilson and every other responsible taxpaying resident in Girard have every good reason to be riled. Such commercial property tax evaders in the city paint a very unpleasant picture of the city of Girard to residents and outsiders alike.
That picture is visible in piled up debris in and near several vacant buildings in the downtown. It’s evident in boarded up structures sometimes defaced with graffiti. And it is apparent in the dangers that some of the long neglected structures pose to public health and safety to all.
IMPACT OF TAX EVASION
But the adverse impact of tax evasion takes a much greater toll than merely aggravating community blight.
Fewer tax dollars to feed local governments, school districts and other publically funded agencies hinder the ability to pay for such critically needed services as education, police and fire services, infrastructure needs, development projects and a host of others.
In Girard’s case, such tax fraud can translate into shortfalls in revenue for the city, city schools and agencies ranging from Trumbull County Children Services to the Trumbull County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
What’s more, when delinquencies mount to the point at which they play a noticeable role in budget deficits and in the consequential need to raise tax rates, all taxpayers become the victimized patsies of the selfish swindlers.
Unfortunately, however, despite the determined mindsets of Girard City Council and its zoning committee made up of Wilson, Lily Martuccio and Mark Ragozine, the city itself is relatively helpless to act alone to fight tax cheats.
That’s because state law in Ohio invests the duty of collecting property taxes almost exclusively in the hands of the county treasurer. Wilson and other Girard leaders are therefore making ardent appeals to Trumbull Treasurer Sam Lamancusa to get tough on the delinquents, up to and including foreclosure on their properties.
To its credit, the county treasurer’s office has been working cooperatively with Girard leaders. It recently provided them with detailed lists of delinquent commercial properties in the city.
It’s also been aggressive countywide in resorting to foreclosure when all other collection efforts failed. In 2017, for example, a record-high 624 tax foreclosures were filed in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, many of which will result in demolition of vacant, dilapidated homes and properties.
Lamancusa and his staff should exert the same vigor toward responding to Girard’s credible calls for action.
In so doing, the city of Girard can begin to rid its downtown of blighted eyesores. In addition, other tax evaders would be put on notice that the many victims of their crime no longer will stand still for such villainy.