Taxpayers in Travis County, Texas, may not be too pleased to know that the county has been keeping money that should be given back to the taxpayers.
An American-Statesman analysis has found that for years, Travis County has kept millions of dollars in overpaid taxes instead of refunding the money to taxpayers.
Thousands of homeowners, mortgage lenders, commercial developers and businesses hurry to pay their taxes before the December 31st deadline and sometimes in the frenzy to pay these taxes on time, they make errors and pay to much money. Being in too much of a hurry and thus making errors is to blame, according to officials, for bringing in about $21 million in mistaken payments over the past three years.
Nevertheless, the Statesman found that the county tax office doesn’t try as hard as other taxing entities in the region to try and make sure the overpayments make it back to property owners. And after three years if the money isn’t returned, the county gets to keep the money.
These overpayments have added about $1 million each year to the county’s $541 million general fund since 2009, which provides a tiny but legally allowed revenue to a pool of money used to pay for employee salaries, computers, equipment and general office supplies.
The county was holding, as of March of this year, about $6 million of property tax money that had not been refunded, and some of it is expected to eventually be turned over to the general fund. County officials do say they try to return the money and also that the amount they have kept in recent years has decreased by more than half as they have put more effort to make refunds.
Nevertheless, the county still follows several long-standing practices that result in it keeping a higher percentage than some other Central Texas tax offices, the analysis found.
A letter is sent by tax office workers to property owners and lenders alerting them to the mistakes almost immediately after they happen. Tax office workers say they may take additional steps to find property owners, but they have no formal process to do so and their efforts often depend on workload. Travis County officials add that property owners and lenders also have a responsibility-first to make sure they pay correct amounts, and then, to act on notices from the tax office.
State law does not set out how taxing authorities must notify property owners of mistaken payments, and agencies across the state of Texas handle it differently based on their interpretation of the law, said Scott Porter, president of the Tax Assessor-Collectors Association of Texas. The law has no provision allowing tax offices to credit a property owner’s account for the next year’s taxes.
While other county tax offices automatically send refund checks when they receive duplicate payments and overpayments, Travis County’s tax office requires property owners to write a request for these payments.
Of the $21 million in overpayments made to Travis County since 2009, property owners are still owed $5.6 million from duplicate payments and $328,602 from single overpayments. According to county officials, $4.5 million of those payments happened in 2011, so they still have two more years to get the money back to taxpayers before it is becomes county money.
The moral to this story is that if you live in Travis County, Texas, make sure your tax payment is correct before you submit it to the county!
The original article can be read here.