From the July 2001 Idaho Observer:

A county's helping hand

by The Idaho Observer

Bonner County Commission Chairman Tom Suttmeier told 15 witnesses at the board's weekly public meeting June 5 that it “appears to me” that the “County did everything in its power” to help the McGuckin family hang onto its property.

Suttmeier made his comments after reviewing the county's file on the foreclosure, seizure and ultimate disposal of the McGuckin property at public auction. It would appear that in order for Suttmeier to believe the county had “gone the extra mile” for the McGuckins, he had to ignore comments from a former county commissioner.

Former Bonner County Commissioner Bud Mueller, who was out of town at the time of the incident, said that he was outvoted by the other commissioners who would not “forgive” the family's tax debt though they had the authority to do so last year.

According to Mueller, the county has routinely “forgiven” past due property taxes for Schweitzer Mountain Ski Resort, Bonner County Mall and other personal and commercial properties.

The Bonner County Commissioner's office claims that it does not compile a list of taxes it has forgiven, but the issue of forgiving a tax is handled publicly at the weekly meetings if a person wanted to go over the minutes of each meeting and locate the specific cases. The Commissioner's office also stated that, though news that a property has been relieved of its tax burden is public, documentation submitted by the applicant to prove hardship worthy of tax relief is not available to the public.

Mueller also said that, prior to the property being sold at auction, the McGuckins' neighbors took up a collection and offered to save the family's 40 acres from foreclosure by paying a year's worth of back taxes. Mueller said that the county refused to accept the payment as being “too late.”

According to state law, the property owner has the right to redeem his property if taxes are paid up within three years of it being deeded to the county or sold to a qualified buyer -- whichever comes first. It would appear that the county not only failed to forgive the taxes when it could have done so under the family's obviously impoverished circumstances; it refused to accept a timely payment that would have delayed any further action against the property for another year.

Don Harkins of The Idaho Observer told Suttmeier that it appeared the county proceeded against McGuckin's property as if she was competent enough to understand that tax delinquency notices must be responded to in a timely manner but that the county moved against her children as if she were mentally disturbed. “Which is it?” Harkins asked.

The commissioners had no answer.

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