MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County relies on your tax dollars to fund schools, improve roads and provide law enforcement and fire protection.
However, the county is short more than $30 million.
While the majority of Shelby County property owners pay what they owe in taxes, the dozens who don’t are taking money from the services we all rely on.
Most of the funding for the county’s budget comes from property taxes. From 2010 to 2017, more $30 million remains unpaid.
If that money were collected, it would cover both the Shelby County Public Works budget for 2020-2021, as well as provide one year of pre-K funding for Shelby County children.
“The county needs every penny it can get,” said Shelby County Trustee Regina Newman. “We collect over 99% within a couple years but you will still have people behind on their taxes.”
Trustee Newman is responsible for collecting Shelby County’s property taxes.
Data her office provided shows that less than 1% of Shelby County residents have outstanding bills, but their delinquency adds up.
“The county doesn’t have the funds for the fire department and the county education and schools and whatever else,” she said.
In May 2019, Trustee Newman released her annual list of those who owe the most in Shelby County taxes.
We tracked down #4 on the list, Arthur Andrew. He and two co-owners haven’t paid on a four-acre tract in Germantown since 2009, racking up a bill worth $427,730.22.
“If you don’t have the money you can’t pay the taxes,” Arthur told the WMC Action News 5 Investigators.
The Trustee’s Office offers payment plans for those who cannot pay their taxes in one lump sum.
“Did you go to the county and ask if you could go on a payment plan?” Asked Investigator Jessica Jaglois.
“Yes, I did everything you can do,” said Arthur.
But Trustee Newman wrote in an email, “We proposed a payment plan to him but he did not agree with it. He made a prior promise to pay my predecessor $1000 per month but did not keep up the payments.”
We asked Arthur why he stopped paying taxes on the property.
“Germantown wouldn’t let me sell the property for several years and every time I’d get a developer, bring the developer in, they would get a contract, would work with Germantown, finally they would walk away from the thing. My taxes kept going up so eventually, it got worse and worse,” Arthur said.
In an email, a spokesperson for Germantown said in an email that the city “does not stop anyone from selling their own private property.”
The Investigators pressed Arthur again.
“Let me ask you something - how much do you make? Could you pay those bills?” Asked Arthur. “Don’t put it on me. You don’t know the circumstances.”
Number 2 on the Trustee’s list is Hickory Ridge Mall. Delinquent taxes on the property date back to 2011 totaling $640,138.22.
World Overcomers Church is the owner and has kept up with a payment plan.
The Investigators spoke with Church Elder Chris Davis but he declined to comment for the story.
Shelby County Commissioner Eddie Jones believes this is an example of someone trying to do right by the taxpayers.
“If the county sits down with you and you draft up a plan to pay those taxes and you stay on target with that, I am totally fine with that,” said Jones. “If you can’t pay all your taxes, come sit down and talk with us and maybe we can work something out. At least we’re collecting something as opposed to the tax bill going and nothing’s being paid.”
If a property owner can’t pay anything or refuses to pay, Shelby County can auction off the property in a tax sale.
These sales are done through an online portal. Buyers pay the taxes owed to take ownership of a property.
Number 3 on the list is 1895 Winchester, a stone’s throw from Graceland. That property will be auctioned off in May.
Taxes haven’t been paid on the property since 2008. The past due amount is $569,922.18.
“This property has a foreign owner and there has apparently been difficulty in the past getting the proper legal notice/service to them as required for sale,” Trustee Newman wrote in an email.
The WMC Investigators found an address in Israel for the owner but nothing more.
What about #1 on the Trustee’s list of top delinquent taxpayers? Read about that here.
Correction: An earlier version of this story identified Chris Davis as the owner of World Overcomers Church. He is the registered agent for the church’s non-profit, Hickory Ridge Mall CDC, which is the listed owner of Hickory Ridge Mall.