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Back taxes pile up: Almost $1 million in arrears

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By The Staff

By DAMON LAWRENCE

dlawrence@roanecounty.com

Roane County Clerk and Master Shannon Conley received the 2008 delinquent tax list last week.

She was shocked at what she saw.

Conley said taxes are owed on 2,018 pieces of property.

That amounted to $915,624.04 that should have gone into county coffers but didn’t.

Roane County Delinquent Tax Attorney Richard Evans is now suing the property owners to collect the money.  

“He will research each name, find out the address that is on file for them, send them a summons letting them know they’ve been sued and that they need to get in and pay it,” Conley said.

Conley and her staff worked late Thursday entering 2008 delinquent tax information in her department’s computer system.

“After it comes up here, there’s a lot of additional fees that’s added to it,” she said. “We’re getting them set up and adding the additional charges and so forth.”

Some of the names on the list include former judge Thomas Austin and Morgan County developer Joseph Armes.

Austin was a Roane County General Sessions Court judge for more than two decades. He went to federal prison for extortion. 

Armes was building a luxurious waterfront home off Dickey Valley Road. The home, which had a bunch of pricey features, was supposed to be the centerpiece of a high-end development.

Armes blamed the TVA ash spill when he couldn’t get a loan to finish it. The property was advertised for auction earlier this year. Armes is now suing TVA.  

There are also numerous businesses on the delinquent tax list. The address for ATG Inc is listed as the East Tennessee Technology Park K-25 site. 

Roane County Trustee Wilma Eblen said delinquent taxpayers are penalized as time goes forward without payment.

“[The amount owed] increases 1.5 percent each month,” she said.

Property owners had from Oct. 1, 2008, to Feb. 28, 2009, to pay their 2008 taxes without penalty. Conley said she was shocked by the list because the amount owed was higher than years past.

“For 2006, the total was like $498,000 and for 2007 it was $720,000,” she said.

Many people have suffered financially because of the economy. A steep recession sparked massive layoffs, foreclosures and bankruptcies.

Conley suspects the economic downturn may have made it difficult for a lot of people to pay their 2008 taxes.

“I would think that would have a large role in it,” she said.

Roane County’s estimated unemployment rate for February was 9.2 percent, which was the fourth-lowest in the state. However, the rate was just 5.1 percent in February 2007.

The tax burden has also been increased on property owners. The Roane County Commission passed a 25-cent property tax increase about five months before the recession started in December 2007.

Conley said the county will allow delinquent taxpayers to make partial payments.

“We just require that there’s something made on a monthly basis,” she said.  “It doesn’t stop the interest from accruing, but it is sort of beneficial to the individuals that if they’re not able to come up with the full amount that’s due, they are able to make partial payments.”

If people don’t pay, they risk having their property sold at auction.

“We usually collect a large percentage before it goes up for auction,” Conley said. “We have the taxes in this office for almost 18 months probably before it goes up for sale.”