The Madison County Record Feb. 14, 2014, 9:56am

To the Editor:

The annual tax sale on Thursday resulted in the sale of $4.4 million of taxes, at a weighted average penalty interest rate of 1.59 percent.

This is the lowest rate that I’m aware of in Madison County. This result is very good for the taxpayers.

This rate is also far below the 18 penalty rates that led to a federal investigation that sent former treasurer Fred Bathon to prison, and led to three tax buyers pleading guilty to collusion.

In 2006, I blew the whistle on these unethical tax sales. This was reported in the newspapers, but when it became clear that county authorities were turning a blind eye, my campaign manager and county board member Steve Adler called the FBI.

The tax sales held from 2005 through 2008 cost taxpayers more than $4 million of excessive penalty interest, and that doesn’t count the homes people lost.

The tax sale is held annually to collect unpaid taxes from property owners. The state requires a tax sale to make sure taxing entities, such as school districts, receive the taxes for which they levy.

Last month, Bathon entered federal prison for rigging tax sales to benefit political contributors. Three tax buyers, Scott McLean, Barrett Rochman and John Vassen, pled guilty to the federal charges associated with Bathon’s scheme. They are scheduled to be sentenced later this month or next month.

In this sale, I excluded the three tax buyers, along with any companies in which they held a controlling interest, from participating in the sale.

After I took office on Dec. 1, 2010, I made two changes to the way tax sales were conducted. First, I refused political donations from tax buyers and second, I implemented automatic software to be used during the sale.

The automatic software puts every tax buyer on a level playing field, resulting in a much lower penalty interest rate, benefiting the taxpayer.

The 18 percent interest rates was bad for taxpayers, but got even worse.

If the taxpayer was unable to redeem the taxes within the first six months, the rate would double every six months, from 18 to 36, to 54, to 90, and finally 108 percent. This really hurt people.

Kurt Prenzler

Madison County Treasurer

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