The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors met in regular session Tuesday night and, among other things, passed a resolution certifying delinquent accounts. The district routinely does so in late October of every year.
Delinquent accounts arise from nonpayment of various rates, fees, tolls, penalties, charges, and assessments for water, sewer or water and sewer services furnished, or to be furnished (including charges for availability of such services).
Once accounts exceeding $150 are six months past due, the district may exercise its power under Section 32-1-1-1101(1) of the Colorado Revised Statutes and its own rules and regulations, to collect the delinquent fees and charges by certification with the Archuleta County Treasurer.
Before considering the resolution to certify delinquent accounts, the district must first call a public meeting, with proper notice to all affected property owners and parties.
As part of the resolution, a list of the unsettled accounts is included from which the district formally requests collection by the county treasurer. The treasurer then attempts to collect the fees and charges owed, “in the same manner as property taxes.” In other words, the charges are assessed against the property and are payable at the time property taxes are due.
Once an account is certified, a lien is filed against the property and additional penalties are assessed against the property owner or affected party, in order to defray costs of collection. In years past, a $30 fee was included, but state statute allows an inclusion of up to 30 percent of the delinquent amount, a sum Archuleta County Treasurer Betty Diller said is likely to befall negligent property owners this year.
With delinquent accounts tied to real property taxes, which are due in the spring of each year, they aren’t subject to a treasurer’s tax sale until fall of the following year. At that time, any interested party not employed by the county and not related to a county employee, may purchase the lien to hold for three years. If the lien isn’t satisfied, or redeemed, in that timeframe, the lien holder may apply for a Treasurer’s Deed to acquire the land.
Meanwhile, the treasurer will have added more fees, including advertising fees and a tax sale certificate fee, as the unpaid account accrues additional interest. To satisfy all obligations and prevent losing the property, the owner must pay the lien holder the lien amount (including the delinquency, property taxes and interest), or face losing the land in the third year.
By law, the treasurer will also schedule a “tax sale” within three to five months of the deed application, allowing the owner a bit more time to satisfy the lien. If the lien is still not satisfied, the treasurer will issue a Treasurer’s Deed, officially conveying land ownership.
According to Diller, however, only about 3 percent of such properties “ever go to deed.” Once a deed application is made, the treasurer’s office will exercise due diligence, while sending at least two certified letters to the property owner, informing him or her that he or she is in danger of losing the property.
“By then,” Diller said, “most people find the money or are able to afford to pay the lien and avoid losing their land.”
Though some landowners will manage to pay outstanding balances at the last minute (by Nov. 10), thereby reducing the number of delinquent accounts pending certification, Tuesday’s PAWSD list included some 400 properties totaling more than $635,000 in past due fees and late charges. With subsequent fees and interest, the ultimate amount collected could be substantial.