In Utah, excuses abound for delinquent property taxes
Harmons grocery stores says they simply forgot to pay property taxes on time. Developer Terry Diehl uses unpaid tax as sort of a no-approval-needed cheap loan. Snowbird condo owners didn't pay as part of a fight against sharply higher taxes. A tax notice for a new Embassy Suites was sent elsewhere.
And Utah's first lady, Jeanette Herbert, said she was lateÂ with a mere $40 because bureaucrats first told her she was short that amount, then said incorrectly it actually had been paid, and then put her on the embarrassing list of delinquent taxpayers anyway. Even the first lady can struggle with bureaucracy.
Those are among the explanations listed by groups that either owe the most or are the best known on the list of delinquent 2013 property taxpayers along the Wasatch Front.
Property taxes are due every year on Nov. 30. But late 2013 taxes in Salt Lake, Utah, Davis and Weber counties amounted to $81.92 million, according to analysis by The Salt Lake Tribune. That was an improvement over the $84.4 million that was late the previous year.
Those who miss the deadline must pay a 1 percent penalty. If it is not paid in full by Jan. 31, the penalty increases to 2.5 percent and interest is assessed (last year's rate was 7 percent but the rate for 2013 taxes has not yet been set). If taxes are not paid within five years, counties auction off the property to collect the unpaid tax.
Oops • At the top of the 2013 tax delinquency list is $360,196 that was owed by the Harmons grocery chain.
"I just missed the deadline," said John Ward, Harmons' chief financial officer, adding that he recently lost an assistant who had helped with such payments. "I am certainly embarrassed that my mistake put Harmons at the top of the list."
He said he noticed it soon after the deadline, "but it doesn't matter if you are an hour late, a day or a month, you end up on the list." He said the taxes and penalty were paid this week.
Harmons isn't the only grocery store that ended up on the list. A Fresh Market at 900 East and 3300 South in Salt Lake County was late on $58,568 in tax.
At No. 2 on the overall list is $304,020 owed on the Snowbird ski resort's Cliff Club, where condominium owners only paid part of the tax owed as they fight sharply higher valuations.
"It's the condominium owners association that owe the tax," said Emily Moench, Snowbird communication manager. "The county property tax on the Cliff Club tripled in the past year. So the condominium association appealed. ... They paid a base amount of about double the tax that was owed before, until the issue is resolved."
Another lodging was No. 4 on the list Â the new Embassy Suites Hotel, a cornerstone of West Valley City's Fairbourne Station development, which owed $263,041. The Redevelopment Agency of West Valley City holds the title to the property, which it leases to the hotel, which may have led to some delay in the hotel receiving the tax notice.
"The tax notice did come to us, and we forwarded it on to them," said West Valley City spokesman Sam Johnson. "We fully expect them to get current with their tax payment and they have given their assurance they would."
Several other hotels are also on the delinquent list, including: a Holiday Inn at the Salt Lake International Center, owing $133,878; a Microtel also at the International Center, owing $59,660; a Baymont Inn in Murray, $71,182; a Courtyard Marriott in Provo, $65,423; and the Peery Hotel in Salt Lake City, owing $58,668.
Prominent developer Terry Diehl's projects have been on the list previously, and are again. Delinquency lists are always top heavy with land developers who look at the interest on unpaid tax as a relatively cheap loan Â and a way to save some cash until their projects sell.
Diehl's Cottonwood Estates Development, also known as Tavaci, at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon was No. 7 on the delinquency list owing $243,360 in 2013 taxes.
Last year, Diehl explained his reasoning in an interview with The Tribune. "Instead of capping bank loans or lines of credit, it was just as cheap to use this as a loan," he said. "We fully intend on paying it in full" before it would go to a tax sale after five years.
Some other developers and owners of commercial property on the delinquency list include: Bangerter Crossing, $133,470; Ivory Homes, $61,989; and Destination Homes, $60,974.
Some other well-known names on the delinquency list include: Memorial Estates (owners of several cemeteries and mortuaries), $278,824; XO Communications, $261,519; Zions First National Bank, $179,497; Northrup Grumman Guidance, $146,026; and Salt Lake Regional Medical Center (for a slice of its property), $113,301.
Politicos • Perhaps the best-known name on the delinquency list is first lady Jeanette Herbert, wife of Gov. Gary Herbert, although it is for a mere $40 Â one of the tiniest amounts on the list for some business property she owns in Orem.
"She sent in the payment and for some reason it was $40 short of the amount they needed," said Marty Carpenter, director of communications for the governor. He said Utah County notified her about the shortage, "so she called them to try to pay it and they couldn't find record that she was $40 short, so they said, 'Well, it must be a mistake so don't worry about it.'"
Then she ended up on the delinquency list. "She's going to pay it right now," Carpenter said Monday.
The only other politician found on the list was incoming Orem Mayor Richard Brunst, who owed a relatively small $238.37 on some residential property in Orem.
"We thought we paid it on time, but there was a mistake made in how it was paid," he said, adding it has since been handled. "We always pay our taxes on time."
Top 2013 Wasatch Front property tax delinquents
1. Harmons grocery stores • $360,196.
2. Snowbird's Cliff Club • $304,020.
3. Memorial Estates (mortuaries, cemeteries) • $278,824.
4. Redevelopment Agency of West Valley City for Embassy Suites Hotel • $263,041.
5. XO Communications • $261,519.
6. TEM Properties (for Supra Naturals building) • $243,878.
7. Cottonwood Estates Development • $243,360.
8. Ventura Utah (South Jordan office building) • $207,795.
9. Zions First National Bank • $179,497.
10. Centerpointe Properties (Salt Lake City office buildings) • $172,256.
Source: Tribune analysis of county delinquent property tax lists.