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Spike in delinquent tax payoffs floods treasurer

A Wall Street meltdown, slow recovery and rising unemployment over the past three years led to a sluggish economy that has directly affected St. Croix County's revenue from property taxes.

Foreclosure sales have kept at a steady increase for five years with little hope of a letup in sight.

But a recent turn of events was a surprise for county Treasurer Laurie Noble when a number properties facing immanent takeover by the county paid up delinquent 2007 taxes.

"We had a flood of activity with (the owners of) 313 properties facing tax deeds paying delinquent 2007 taxes through the first week of January," Noble said. She said 179 properties in delinquency were still on the books last week.

Noble reported in September 540 parcels were in jeopardy ending up in foreclosure.

Since the county treasurer's office collects the taxes for 17 municipalities some heretofore revenue, probably feared uncollectable, came through.

"We paid $13 million back to municipalities last week," Noble said.

State statutes govern the process before a county takes over a parcel for delinquent taxes. It takes about three years before the property goes into tax deed by the county, Noble said.

Noble's report to the county board Jan. 4 stated that a real estate company out of Atlanta, Ga., paid 2007 delinquent taxes on 256 parcels at Whispering Prairie, Fox Run and Platinum Development in New Richmond. Later 2007 payments came in for another group of parcels at Evergreen in New Richmond.

The 179 parcels still unpaid from 2007 represent some $476,943 that includes general taxes, special assessments, special charges and delinquent charges.

The county's tax bill for 2010 payable in 2011 amounts to $143,671,280 according to the treasurer's annual report. Some $25.9 million is Hudson's bill, $14.8 million for New Richmond and $6.3 million for River Falls, which is situated in two counties, among cities. The Town of Hudson tops the township rolls with $12.3 million. Baldwin and North Hudson bill over $6 million each among villages.

While the flood of payments from 2007 was a bright spot for the treasurer's office, the delinquent taxes for 2008 will have to be paid up and the 179 parcels still in arrears will have to be paid up in March to avoid the tax deed process.

Noble said her office was working on payment programs with some homeowners behind in their taxes to help pay off the debt.

The St. Croix Economic Development Corporation (EDC) reported last week St. Croix County's rate of unemployment for November was 6.1 percent, which marked an increase from September at 5.4 percent and October at 5.7 percent based on a report by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

A year ago, the county's unemployment rate was estimated at 7.3 percent, the report said.

Bill Rubin, executive director of the St. Croix EDC said, "Economists say the current recession started in December 2007."

The St. Croix County Sheriff's Department reported foreclosure sales up 15 percent in 2010 for a total 828 compared with 720 in 2009. Sheriff's records showed 188 foreclosure sales in 2006, 369 for 2007, 553 in 2008.