The interpretation of a Kansas law regarding who’s responsible for delinquent taxes on personal property after it is sold isn’t consistent in every county, although the state contends the law is clear.
The confusion arises when someone buys property, such as a boat or trailer, and then discovers the previous owner hadn’t paid the taxes. The Kansas Department of Revenue said state law clearly requires that the unpaid taxes follow the property but many counties aren’t interpreting the law that way.
The discrepancy became more apparent when the Kansas Department of Revenue launched a program in May 2012 that allows county treasurers to more easily communicate with each other, making it simpler to track delinquent taxes across county lines.
Shawnee County has changed its interpretation of the law in the last two years, now requiring that delinquent personal property taxes stay with the property, said Jonathan Brzon, assistant county counselor.
That left Heather Wolf on the hook for a $635 tax bill that a Shawnee County resident didn’t pay on a personal watercraft she purchased in 2012. Wolf said she was unaware of the tax lien until March, when she received a letter from Shawnee County.
If the issue isn’t resolved by November, the single mother of two risks not having her vehicle’s tags renewed.
“To me, this law needs to be changed,” Wolf said. “I’m an innocent person, and now I’m getting punished for somebody else’s negligence.”
Bill Waters, attorney for the Division of Property Valuation in the state revenue department, supported Shawnee County’s application of the law.
“Personal property taxes follow the property,” Waters said, noting that a lien expires three years after the taxes originally were due. The only exception is when the sale is a normal retail transaction, such as the sale of a boat by a boat dealer, he said.
Johnson, Geary, Butler and Saline counties also follow Shawnee County’s interpretation, but others – such as Crawford, Wyandotte, Sedgwick and Reno counties – assess the delinquent taxes to the original owner.
Sedgwick County Treasurer Linda Kizzire said assessing delinquent taxes to the person who owes them “has been a long-standing procedure.”
Shawnee County Commissioner Kevin Cook supported his county’s interpretation but he doesn’t agree with the consequences. He said the Legislature needs to clarify the issue.
“The law doesn’t seem to be fair to innocent purchasers, who may not be aware,” he said. “But I think that we have to follow the law, regardless of what other counties do.”