Berrien County Treasurer Bret Witkowski says that his olive branch offer to help homeowners facing foreclosure to keep their properties through a structured payment plan bore fruit again last week when the tax deadline arrived. In fact, he says, a total of 545 property owners managed to avoid foreclosure by either paying their delinquent taxes or establishing a payment plan with his office in St. Joseph.
On the other hand, Witkowski says his office was forced to foreclose on 252 properties where the homeowners or landowners failed to produce either payment or sign on for the payment plan. That's up from last year, but Witkowski says increase was largely driven by two circumstances. One was the case of the former Travel Lodge Hotel on Riverview Drive where half of the condos created there have been foreclosed upon while the balance were redeemed for now. The Treasurer says that 45 of the 90 condo units at that former lodging facility will go up for auction with all the other foreclosed units from this round of delinquent property taxes.
The other rare circumstance that helped to inflate the foreclosure total was the case of a single land owner in the City of Benton Harbor who let fully 20 lots be foreclosed upon, all of which are headed to the next auction series for failure to pay.
As a result of the newly established payment plans, Witkowski now has current plans with 797 property owners who are paying an average monthly rate of just over $271.00 against a total cumulative debt of just over $4-million dollars. The county, thanks to the payment structure, is now collecting an average of $216,035.00 a month against that $4-M debt. The average delinquent property owner has just over $5,000 due in back taxes as of April 1, 2019.
The 797 owners on payment plans also represents the highest number under that plan in three years. It's also the highest accumulated total and the highest average owed per property in that three year time span as well.
Witkowski says, "For me, I'm just excited that so many property owners, by making payments, are able to keep what is most important to them -- their homes." He adds, "We are very thankful for the current 95-percent success rate. Currently we send out monthly bills. Starting in May, property owners will get to choose between getting the monthly statements or a text message reminder."