From the July 2001 Idaho Observer:

McGuckin story illuminates Idaho's property theft laws

by Don Harkins

The McGuckin story has illuminated several of the mechanisms whereby agencies of the government are emboldened through civic complacency to violate due process and civil rights, imprison people and seize custody of their property and their minor children.

The McGuckin story also shined a spotlight on what may prove to be the biggest racket in the state: As per Title 63, Chapter 10, Section 1015 of Idaho Code, proceeds from the sale of real property, “shall be paid into the county treasury by the tax collector.”

The McGuckin family could have redeemed their 40 acres of beautiful north Idaho property with ¼ mile of private lake frontage, which has a value estimated to be between $350,000 and $500,000 had they been able to pay a year's taxes -- about $1,500. However, because the county commissioners refused to “forgive” the property taxes, which they have the power to do, and refused to accept a payment from neighbors who took up a collection to redeem the McGuckin property, it was sold at auction for $53,000. The total tax owed the county, less costs associated with the sale, was about $8,100.

The excess monies, rather than being returned to the family was deposited with the county treasury where it was, “apportioned among the several state and county funds and taxing districts, as provided for the apportionment of property taxes.”

The law is different when a person is behind on their personal property taxes. According to IC 63-11-7, “All excess over the property taxes and costs of the proceedings of any sale must be returned to the owner of the property or deposited in the county treasury to be refunded by order of the county commissioners.”

In other words, if the county decides to seize personal property to pay a tax debt, it must return to the indebted citizen all monies over the due amount; if the county seizes your real property to pay a tax debt, it must keep all monies generated from the sale.

The way the law reads, property may be foreclosed upon for back taxes, seized for nonpayment and sold at auction to the highest bidder. When the new owner, who in this case purchased the property for pennies on its real dollar value, pays the full amount of the sale to the county which currently holds title; the back taxes are paid and the excess funds are deposited into the county treasury where they are apportioned among the various state and county agencies.

“We are going to challenge the law,” commented Bonner County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Suttmeier at a public meeting June 5. Suttmeier stated that he thought the law was unfair and that had the family been allowed to keep the excess, it would have at least been able to afford to purchase a trailer house on a different piece of property.

It would appear that the legislature passed into law a powerful incentive for county governments to foreclose upon private property by giving them the authority to keep all the “profit” realized from such sales for government activities.

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