Milwaukee May Expedite Tax Foreclosures to Crack Down on Delinquent Landowners
On May 31, the Milwaukee – Wisconsin Journal Sentinel published an article discussing a proposed measure that would accelerate the city of Milwaulee’s ability to foreclose on vacant, tax-delinquent properties.
Milwaukee may expedite tax foreclosures to crack down on delinquent landowners
The Milwaukee Common Council is expected to take up a measure Tuesday that, if approved, would accelerate the city’s ability to foreclose on vacant, tax-delinquent properties.
The idea behind the measure, which was authored by Ald. Bob Bauman and supported by City Treasurer Spencer Coggs, is to thwart scofflaws who manipulate property tax practices and to place abandoned homes in city hands before they blight and destabilize neighborhoods.
The Judiciary and Legislation Committee approved the measure Friday after a failed attempt to hold the matter for further consideration.
The city’s housing policy director, Aaron Szopinski, said he agreed with the intent of the measure but wanted to better understand its potential fiscal impact.
“There is nothing to be gained by holding this,” Bauman said. “We’ve been twiddling our fingers about this for five years.”
Under the current system, the city treasurer’s office employs a three-phase process of tax enforcement:
- During the first phase, the city attempts to collect the taxes the year they are due. Five collection letters — four from the treasurer and one from the city attorney — are sent out.
- If taxes remain uncollected, the account is turned over to the city’s collection law firm, which has 12 months to resolve the matter.
- As a last resort, the city forecloses on the property and becomes its owner.
Bauman said those who manipulate the process know they have about three years before the city takes the property. Some landowners will wait until the last possible moment to pay their taxes. Others will wait for the city to foreclose and then just walk away.
“If a property is vacant and eligible for tax foreclosure,” Coggs said, “under this proposal it will not be referred to the city’s collection law firm.
“Instead, my office will pursue a … tax foreclosure to save the property from spiraling downward,” he said.
Bauman said he thought the measure would light a fire under those who use tax delinquency as a business model.
Coggs said the city already collects 98 cents of every tax dollar levied. The measure is more about neighborhood stabilization, he said.
“This new initiative is designed to keep communities more cohesive by not allowing one vacant home to bring down the property values of the entire neighborhood,” he said.
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