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Lien on Me

Property Liens Still Unresolved
Unpaid Bills
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Lien on me….when our city’s not strong…we’ll be the enforcer…of bills gone wrong…


Add those words to the hit song “Lean on Me” and you could get a sense of the underlying controversy between the Bell administration and Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez.

A couple of weeks back, Ms. Lopez announced she would no longer process property liens for unpaid water bills, because many of them were getting tacked on the properties of new owners following the purchase from a previous owner who owed the overdue bill.

Some home and business owners were getting stuck with hundreds, even thousands of dollars worth of municipal water/sewer/storm water/garbage services they never incurred. 

The Bell administration is aggressively trying to collect more than $13 million in such delinquent bills, much of that debt more than a year old—and a backlog of cases dating back several years.

That backlog became well-known last year to candidates running for elected city office, as commercial real estate agents and business owners complained privately that the situation had halted just about every commercial property transaction in Toledo. The bumbling bureaucracy only added to the city’s economic woes, because several businesses ended up looking to the suburbs or elsewhere for a location.

One of the mayor’s own top administrators calls the practice “patently ridiculous” but is allowed under state law. Ms. Lopez has counterclaimed her legal staff sees the situation differently.

The county auditor says she and Mayor Mike Bell are “supposed to meet by the end of the month” to discuss the issue and hopefully work out their differences. The mayor also has promised a revised, more “user-friendly” policy.

Some of the situations may resolve themselves. Real estate professionals, now aware of the problem, likely will do their homework on overdue municipal bills before a property sale goes to closing.

But there are still hundreds of old liens the county auditor’s staff is investigating where the lien was placed after the sale of a home or business closed.

The mayor promised that new municipal utility collection policy “within a couple of weeks.” That time frame is nearly gone. Let’s hope an announcement is soon forthcoming.

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