Tax on private roads debated
by JOYANNA WEBER, Banner Staff Writer
Apr 09, 2013 | 1514 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tax Notices
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Some Bradley County residents are being notified they are delinquent on taxes for being partial owners of private roads they had no knowledge of owning.

The delinquent tax information on the private roads was turned over to Bradley County Attorney Crystal Freiberg, whose office sent out the notices.

Freiberg said many people who live on a private road do not know the road is private, or their responsibility. She said it is often listed on the deed to the lot the individual is buying. Yet, it is not often talked about or explained.

“Private roads are allowed under our current subdivision regulations,” Freiberg said.

Resident Leah Shepherd said she had lived in her home for seven years and did not know taxes were due on the road.

“While we realize it is our responsibility to know what we are purchasing and know what we should be paying, we didn’t know,” Shepherd said. “We simply didn’t know.”

The original property owners signed a joint use and maintenance agreement for taking care of the road.

“The problem with the joint use and maintenance agreement is, of the original owners, there is only one remaining on that road,” Shepherd said.

Residents on her road were notified in March that taxes from 2008-2010 had not been paid on the road. Once residents were made aware of the responsibility to pay, they paid the 2011 and 2012 taxes.

Shepherd asked the Bradley County Commission during its work session Monday to waive the interest and penalty fees for the 2008-2010 taxes due. The property taxes on Shepherd’s road each year are $38. Interest of 1 percent per month has accrued on this amount since the taxes were determined to be delinquent. The Commission deferred the private road issue to the delinquent tax committee. Committee members said this would be considered by the committee.

“There are now 12 property owners on that road,” Freiberg said. “We had multiples of those property owners step forward and say they just wanted to pay it, yet no one wanted to take care of the road,” Shepherd said.

The road Shepherd lives on does not meet current requirements for new private roads for more than six plats of land. She said fixing the road would mean thousands of dollars in expense to the property owners.

“We have a classic gravel road gone bad,” Shepherd said.

Often only one or two homeowners take responsibility for keeping the road maintained.

“Best-case scenario, the homeowners would get together and have some sort of agreement between themselves as to how taxes and upkeep and all that would get done. But from what we’ve seen, that rarely happens,” Freiberg said.

Freiberg and Thompson said they had received calls of compliant about the condition of private roads.

Regulations are higher for roads that have more than six residences. For roads with fewer than six, a gravel road is acceptable. If there are more than six, the road must meet the same standards as a county road. Maintenance, however, is not overseen by the county. Shepherd’s road may have been constructed before these additional standards were put in place.

Although more than one resident uses the road and all property owners could pay a portion of the taxes, tax notices are only sent out to the “homeowner who has owned their lot the longest that touches the private road,” Freiberg said. “The rest of the homeowners do not get a notice.”

Bradley County Assessor of Property Stanley Thompson said the computer program used only allows him to send one notice, and 4th District Commissioner J. Adam Lowe said the software issue needed to be addressed.

Taxes are only considered paid when the full amount is received by the county Trustee’s Office.

When delinquent taxes are sent to the County Attorney’s Office, a title search is done and notices are sent to those who connect to the road in hopes someone will pay it, Freiberg said.

Freiberg said some private roads are in the list of properties to be sold at the delinquent tax auction in July.

“Technically, legally we can sell the road,” Freiberg said.

First District Commissioner Ed Elkins said removing the roads from the list of properties to be auctioned would be one of the first things the delinquent tax committee needs to do.

Freiberg said if the road went to auction and no one bid on it, the county would. However, even if the county owned the road it would not be responsible for maintaining it. The roads would have to be brought up to county standards before the county could accept them as county roads.

Freiberg said allowing private roads in the county makes it simpler for landowners who want to divide their land among their children to provide inexpensive access to the road. Issues arise when these lots are later sold to nonfamily members.

Also during the Commission meeting:

- Finance committee members received copies of the budget proposals for county departments. Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said 34 departments did not have increases in their budgets. Some other departments had decreased their budget in the requests.

“They are showing you up front that they are going to try to live within the budget we had this last year,” Davis said.

Davis said his priorities for the budget will once again be increasing the county’s general fund balance, and instituting a salary increase for county employees. Davis said department heads who are elected officials already have a raise coming from the state.

- Appointments to the Lake Forest Ad Hoc Committee were also announced. Members will include Davis, Commission Chairman Louie Alford, Elkins (chair of the finance committee), Lowe (chair of the education committee), Bradley County Schools Director Johnny McDaniel, Board of Education chairman Charlie Rose, chairman of the school board capital projects committee Chris Turner, county finance director Lynn Burns and schools finance director Rick Smith.