Should Governments Seize Property and Ruin The Lives of Citizens Who Fail to Pay Their Property Taxes?

by Robert John Stevens, December 22, 2017

If you fail to pay your property taxes, should the government seize your property?

I’ve sat in several Utah County Commissioners’ Meetings where citizen appeals are reviewed. Each time county employees testify to the county commissioners that they sent property tax notices and still the taxes weren’t paid. Each time the commissioners unanimously deny the appeal and ruin lives.

This scene always reminds me of French revolution movie scenes where tyrants send innocent citizens to the guillotine.

Google, “What percentage of mail gets lost by USPS yearly?” How many times have you received someone else’s postal mail? Did you always promptly forward it? What if you are experiencing financial distress and cannot pay your property taxes?

There are approximately 600,000 citizens in Utah County. Guestimating 20% own property, that’s 120,000 property tax notices per year. If 1% of those are lost or stolen, then 12,000 landowners face property seizure.

Shockingly, the citizens who filed for appeals were not at the meetings. Why not? Probably because they felt they submitted valid reasons and expected mercy, forgiveness and civility.

Commissioner Bill Lee told me on Wednesday that it is the duty of every citizen to pay his or her property taxes and the tax notices are just courtesies. I have a great deal of respect for Bill Lee. He’s a fine person who has acquired a great deal of wisdom. At first, Bill’s argument sounded reasonable to me and then I remembered that most citizens in Utah County are Mormon, Catholic or Protestant and expect the county commissioners to Follow the Golden Rule as commanded by Jesus Christ and reiterated by modern apostles.

“Followers of Christ should be examples of civility…We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence…We encourage all of us to practice the Savior’s Golden Rule: ‘Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them’ (Matthew 7:12).”

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—Follow the Golden Rule.

If I were a commissioner I would never vote to seize the property of citizens who failed to pay their taxes. To exercise equal justice, I would approve appeals contingent upon reasonable accrued interest, not to exceed what local banks impose. There is no reason found in Christianity for governments to seize property and ruin the lives of citizens who are late paying their property taxes.

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