Rumors in error on Mason tax debt

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By Cindy Simpson

Sometimes things are not what they seem.

The Roane County News recently received a tip saying Harriman Mayor Chris Mason owes delinquent 2010 property taxes on his former home at 510 Margrave Drive.

And while records seem to indicate that he does, county officials say that is not the case — and it is the buyer who actually owes on the taxes.

The distinction is important because the Harriman City Charter requires that elected municipal officials not be indebted to the city, county or state when taking their oath of office.

Prior to the election, it was a  concern because mayoral contender Wayne Best owed delinquent taxes.

Mason sold his home in July 2010, but tax records show he owes $170 in taxes on that property for that year.

It is the way the records are set up that has created the false impression, officials say. Roane County deputy trustee Ruby Rotters said Mason is shown as the person owing taxes because he owned the property in January 2010.

However, the current owner, who is shown on the registered deed from July 3, 2010, is responsible for the remaining taxes and those moving forward.

Property Assessor Teresa Kirkham said state law requires the tax rolls to be set up that way.

“The Roane County property tax rolls show property ownership as of Jan. 1 of the current year,” Kirkham explained. “So when the 2011 rolls come out in October of this year, his name will no longer be on there.”

“The taxes follow the land, not the owner,” Kirkham added.

Mason said he inquired about the record before the election this year and was told he’s not responsible for the taxes.

“It  is not my responsibility,” Mason said. “Taxes were paid every year I owned it from 2001 to 2010.”

Mason asked officials if he should pay the remainder — just in case — before the election and was advised not to. He said he had a lease purchase agreement with the owner prior to the sale that specified she was  responsible for the taxes.

Kirkham said taxes are usually prorated or an agreement is reached between the buyer and seller of the property.

She said if the taxes were to go unpaid and the matter went to back-tax litigation, it would be the current owner, not Mason, who would be listed.

City Attorney Harold Balcom said he doesn’t believe Mason is delinquent ,but it would ultimately depend on whether a payment agreement where Mason would share the tax burden was arranged at the time of the sale.