We Still Don’t Have
the Property Tax Bill
Issues in Writing
When the recycling fees appeared on St. Joe County property tax bills last year, Citizens for Common Sense filed a legal challenge, asking the County to address the fact that it was illegal to put the recycling “fee” on the tax bill because it had never been voted on by the County Council.
We also questioned whether they really intended to cause people to lose their houses to a tax sale for not paying the recycling fee – which is the legal consequence of failure to pay your property taxes in full.
If this is not addressed, how can we know they won’t add MORE fees to our tax bills??
(and force us to pay them or lose our homes)
The County Solid Waste Management Board and the County Commissioners both made statements that they never intended for nonpayers to lose their homes,and pledged to change the way it would appear on the bill next year so it would not be officially a part of the property tax assessment.
But NOTHING IS IN WRITING.
This leaves 3 serious concerns:
- They say they don’t’ want to put anyone’s property up for tax sale for refusing to pay the recycling fee, but do they have any legal way to just ignore such delinquent bills? Our understanding is that the Treasurer MUST put all such properties up for tax sale. If they have thought of a way to get around this legal obligation, they have not told us. Put it in writing!
- They also have not defined how they plan to put it “on the tax bill;” next year (with additional charges for hazardous waste) without being in the same violation of the law as this year. Again, we need to see in writing what they are proposing.
- Finally, what about people who went ahead and paid recycling under duress because they were afraid they would lose their homes? These people want a way to tell the county to move that money to next year’s tax bill and leave the recycling bill unpaid. There is nothing being said about how these people should proceed. This also needs to be clarified.
These questions need to be answered!
We gave the County 6 months in which to respond to our request for a resolution to these three problems.
The County has not answered.
General statements like “we never intended this” and “we are going to fix this” do not give us any confidence that they have actually come up with a legal solution to these 3 issues.
If they are going to ignore citizens raising valid legal issues, what do we do about these 3 issues?
Answer: We have no alternative but to take the matter before the courts to force a written response.
We are not trying to get money out of this. We are trying to get answers.
This lawsuit is a matter of principle. The citizens of St. Joe County deserve answers.
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In Case You Wondered:
Why There Are People Refusing to Pay Recycling Fees
Twenty years ago when mandatory recycling was first proposed in St. Joe County, there were a few thousand people already recycling. They were putting their own time and effort into preparing recyclables for private companies or county drop-off sites.
When the County proposed to end the drop-off sites and put in a county-wide curbside recycling program, reactions were mixed. A county-wide recycling option initially sounded great.
Then we found out it would cost more than what we were already doing. Some practical minded recyclers objected to this.
Then we learned that the recyclables would be hauled by diesel to Chicago, impacting our roads and our air. Some environmentally conscious recyclers objected to this.
Then we found out that there would be no option. Whether you liked this program or not, you would be required to pay for it. Many rights-oriented citizens objected to this.
Then we learned that SOME people, those who lived in cities and towns, would be able to approach their councils about opting OUT of the program, while rural people would have NO government body to vote on it. Many citizens who believed in the Indiana Constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment under the law took exception to this.
When the recycling “fees” were mandated, some 400 St. Joe County households refused to pay. Our Citizens for Common Sense group took the issue to court, arguing that the “fee” was effectively a “tax” and was therefore illegal because as a tax it had to have been voted on by the County Council. Yet the recycling fee never went before the County Council.
The courts came back with arguments that it was a fee not a tax, and somehow it didn’t matter that rural residents had no one to opt them out like the town and city dwellers did. We felt that the Constitutional argument would win the day, but the Indiana Supreme Court refused to hear our case.
So, many of the 400 citizens continued to refuse to pay the bill and the years marched on. The County took each of these citizens to court, one by one. Hundreds of dollars of court fees were assessed. They were taken into a side room and intimidated with threats of bench warrants and loss of property If they gave the courts the information they demanded about where they worked and where they banked, assets were frozen, wages were garnished.
One by one, these people started paying the recycling fees for services they were not using. The number of conscientious objectors dwindled, but a handful still refuse to pay to this day.
Then last year, recycling was put on the tax bill. “On the tax bill” means it’s a tax, and hence, illegal because it never went through the County Council.
For the first time, objectors face the threat of losing their homes for refusing to pay recycling.
We at Citizens for Common Sense have called foul. We have reminded the County that 18 years ago, we argued that it was a tax and that someday it would be put on our property tax bills so people could lose their homes over it. County officials swore then that it would never happen.
Last year it did.
So Citizens for Common Sense has asked the County to put in writing how it planned to prevent these objectors from losing their homes. We filed a Notice of Claim in a timely fashion, but the County never responded to that Notice, even though a response is required by law.
They have said in the media that they will make sure no one loses their home. But do they have any idea how to carry this out? By law, the County Treasurer is required to put every delinquent home up for tax sale. If he or she fails to do so, he/she could be charged with favoritism. Has the County thought through how to avoid getting the Treasurer thrown in jail? We don’t think so. That’s why we need them to spell out their plan – IN WRITING.
So you see, this is not just about recycling, it’s about individual rights and the law and the Indiana Constitution. The citizens of St. Joe County deserve answers as to how the County proposes to correct this illegal billing which could cost them their homes. Please join us in forcing the answers.
P.S. The meeting where we will discuss how to deter unwanted (and illegal) additions to our property tax bills, has been moved because the state GOP is holding a platform hearing at the original time and place.
|State GOP Platform Hearing
for public input on the party platform of the Indiana Republican Party
Thurs, April 12 at 6:00 pm
SJC GOP Headquarters
4133 S. Main / South Bend
|“Illegal fees on property tax bills”
presented to SJC Tea Party Patriots at their regular meeting (public welcome)
Thurs, April 26 at 6:30 pm
SJC GOP Headquarters
4133 S. Main / South Bend