Reconsideration of SB1071 failed 28 to 31 yesterday in the Arizona House of Representatives. The bill, originally sponsored by Arizona State Senator Steve Smith, would have put a $500 cap on fees that a county treasurer may charge for a tax lien deed where ten or more parcels are involved. Supervisor Buster Johnson, Chair of the Arizona Association of Counties (AACo) Legislative Committee, reached out in opposition to the bill. “This was special legislation aimed at helping a private investor in Pinal County,” Supervisor Johnson stated. “I want to thank Representative Cobb for voting against this bill and for recognizing that this was poorly written and would have harmed Arizona’s counties,” Johnson continued.
According to AACo, the majority of the treasurer’s in Arizona were against SB1071 stating that if passed it would have set a president for future tax liens that would have cost county taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. “If this bill would have passed a million dollar investor would have end up paying a little over .17 cents per parcel in tax lien deed fees while regular county taxpayers are still paying $50,” Johnson explained. The bill was originally brought about after Phoenix area attorney and multi-million dollar investor Wayne Howard purchased 2,922 tax lien properties in Pinal County resulting in him having to pay a fee of $146,100 to get them deeded through the Pinal County Treasurer’s Office. “Anyone who buys a lien knows the costs when bidding and they make a business decision at that time as to the worth and their investment,” Johnson stated.
Current state law allows third parties to purchase properties through tax lien sales after a property owner is delinquent on their taxes for three years. The owners of the lien may then initiate foreclosure proceedings if the landowner does not pay what they owe plus penalties. If the third party obtains a court-ordered judgment on the foreclosure, the third party is then required to obtain a deed transferring the property from the debtor to the third party. The current fee for the issuance of each deed is $50 according.
According to Johnson, the current fee only covers half of what it costs the treasurer’s office to transfer the deed. “A breakdown of the actual cost to process these deeds amounts to $97 per deed,” Johnson explained. “At the $50 level we can process them and it still costs the county taxpayers some money,” Johnson continued. “If we put a $500 cap on deeds of ten or more, regular citizens are still being forced to pay the $50 fee while multi-million dollar investors are getting over a 90% reduction,” Johnson stated.
Johnson also believes that the language of the bill would not have held up in court. “Legally you cannot bundle multiple deeds. They need to be done individually,” Johnson stated. “If it is a subdivision for example with multiple lots it cannot be put back as one piece of land without going back to planning and zoning for hearings and back to the board of supervisors for a public hearing and a vote,” Johnson explained.
In the case of Wayne Howard, Pinal County Treasurer Dolores “Dodie” Doolittle offered him a compromise on the fees by trying to settle at $25,000. When the settlement offer was not good enough, he took his case to the state legislator to try and change the law. “This legislation was written to benefit Mr. Howard. Language in the bill would have retroactively applied to any judgement that was entered before the effective date of this bill for which the deed had not yet been obtained,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, it takes the county treasurer’s office roughly an hour and a half to process a tax lien deed transfer. In the case of Mr. Howard, it would have taken Pinal County 113 weeks to process all 2,922 deeds. “With the state shifting costs of nearly $46 million onto counties this budget session, county services are already being stretched to the maximum. This legislation would have been another hit to the counties and another burden put on the taxpayers,” Johnson ended.
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