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More than $1.5M owed in back taxes in Clark, Champaign

The top five most delinquent land owners in both Clark and Champaign counties combined owe a nearly $1.6 million in unpaid property taxes.

“I spend 90 percent of my time collecting the 10 percent who didn’t pay,” Champaign County Treasurer Kermit Russell said.

Champaign County’s top five debtors owe about $500,000. A total of $3.6 million is owed countywide and its delinquency rate sits at about 9.7 percent.

In Clark County, the top five delinquent properties are behind by nearly $1.1 million. Its delinquency rate is about 11.9 percent, which Treasurer Stephen Metzger said shows the county’s aggressive approach.

“We’ve been actively involved in foreclosures and enforcement since 1990,” said Metzger, who took office that year.

Payment plans can ease tax burden

Both Metzger and Russell said they want any property owners who fall behind on their taxes to contact the county and set up a payment plan. A delinquent contract can be offered that will space out two payments per year over five years with no interest to help people get back on track.

In years past Clark County had about 300 parcels under delinquent contracts, Metzger said, and now nearly 1,000 are in the payment plans.

“We encourage them to get back into a contract instead of pushing and saying we are going to put this up for sale,” he said. “There is probably no way they can come up with the total amount due.”

Russell described the contract as a sort of interest-free loan for owners under water.

“It gives folks a chance, if they’ve had some hardships, to get caught up,” Russell said. “If they default on the pay plan, then any interest gets added back on.”

Several of the properties currently on the top five lists are under these payment plans, including the owners of the office building at the corner of East Main and South Limestone streets in Springfield, known as the Edison Center or Commerce Pointe.

Tectonic Development owner Chris Simonton, who bought the building under Pottersville Investment Co., said the onset of the Great Recession just after the building was purchased caused a steep decline in the property’s value and the ability to develop it the way they had intended.

Now the building is back to 90 percent full with tenants, including the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re basically digging out of the hole that we got in when the recession hit,” Simonton said.

Barbara Packer has entered into several different payment plans with Champaign County over the years, trying to pay off accumulating back taxes on 10 rental properties she owns.

“I can’t pay if people don’t pay their rent,” she said.

The Ohio Equine Agricultural Association Inc., which owns and operates the Champions Center at the Clark County Fairgrounds, is paying down a balance of about $112,760. Moving forward, the association is tax exempt, but it owes the bill from it initial years after problems with filing its nonprofit status application.

“I’m happy to say we are current. We have three payments left,” Association President Fred Maine said.

Clark State Community College is also a tax exempt organization, but due to an error in 2012 the new Hollenbeck Bayley Center, wasn’t approved for that status until 2013 and owes taxes for the previous year. The school hasn’t set up a payment plan, according to the treasurer’s office.

Director of Marketing Jennifer Dietsch said the school is actively working to resolve the issue “because Clark State is funded by taxpayers, students, donors and grantors, and we strive to always be good stewards of the funds entrusted to us.”

Ganesh Rao, owner of the Country Hearth hotel in Urbana, said he has been attempting to work out a payment plan with the treasurer’s office, but has not gotten any response. His company, Pooja Hospitality Inc., has made some recent payments towards the more than $100,000 owed. But he is appealing the property’s value, which he said has dropped drastically since it was purchased.

“We were sending payment according to the newly assessed value,” Rao said.

Executive Director of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce Sandy Arnold said they have made strides recently in fixing up the hotel and are a valuable piece of the local tourism business.

“They are very important to me, so I hope that things get resolved,” she said.

Longtime eyesore

The property that tops the list in Champaign County has been an eyesore in Urbana for more than five years.

The 20-acre former industrial sites at 605 Miami St. and 200 Beech St. were originally owned by the Johnson Manufacturing Co. and Grimes Aerospace respectively. Johnson manufactured tin and iron ware for railroad lines going back to 1902 before turning their efforts in the 1930s to designing parts for truck brake systems, according to city of Urbana records. The Beech Street property has been used mostly as a plastic molding facility.

Q3 JMC Inc. bought both properties in 1995 and continued to operate the facilities until 2008.

“The company has essentially ceased to maintain the facility since its closure, which has resulted in extensive vandalism and deterioration of the property,” said Doug Crabill, assistant to the director of administration for Urbana.

After several years of continued vacancy, the city began work to redevelop the property in 2011, receiving a $265,822 Clean Ohio Assistance Fund grant to conduct an environmental assessment of the site.

That study found the site has contributed to volatile organic compound contamination of a local aquifer. Crabill said the city has contracted with an environmental engineering firm to prepare estimates for cleanup and demolition.

Those numbers should be available within the next few months and the city hopes the next step will be foreclosure.

“The goal is to put it through tax foreclosure with the hope that the city could gain control of it, clean it up and redevelop it,” Crabill said. That process is ongoing as the city pursues funding through Jobs Ohio, which has taken over the Clean Ohio brownfield program.

In late 2013, the city hired an attorney who specializes in brownfields to assist in this process.

The village of Mechanicsburg has similarly high hopes for the property that sits at No. 3 on the Champaign County list of unpaid taxes, a crumbling structure that has sat vacant in the village’s downtown for years.

The roof of the empty building at the corner of Main and Sandusky streets is caving in and village leaders hope an expedited foreclosure could put the property in the hands of someone who would demolish it and put the lot to good use.

Although the county has had some success with a pilot program for the expedited foreclosure on residential properties, no system currently exists for commercial structures.

“It is frustrating. We’ve tried every way in the world to get something done about it, but we are limited,” Mayor Greg Kimball said. “We’re open to suggestions. Anything would be better than what’s there now.”

The company listed on property tax records as owning the parcels isn’t listed as active in the Secretary of State’s business registry and no owner could be tracked down.

Stalled subdivision

Although the stalled Twin Creeks subdivision still tops the list of delinquencies in Clark County, at least a portion of the property could soon be on it’s way to development.

Purchased in 2004 by Michigan investor Dan Craite, the subdivision was envisioned as a 700-unit housing development to be built in two phases over 15 years. But when Craite died in 2007, the city of New Carlisle was left with an $80,000 per year bill to cover treasury notes issued for improvements. The subdivision was supposed to pay off the notes.

Through the county’s Land Re-utilization Program, the city acquired 30 of the lots that had been platted as part of the first phase of the project. City Manager Kim Jones said New Carlisle has interested parties and hopes to close on the sale of all those deeds by the end of March.

More than $500,000 in taxes is still owed on the remaining 135 acres of undeveloped land that was supposed to make up the second phase. The mortgage company is in the process of foreclosing on the remaining parcel, but is tied up in litigation over assessments on the property. Once that foreclosure moves forwards, the county would be paid the taxes owed.

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