Jeff Brown, with Austin-based law firm Linebarger, Goggan & Sampson, LLP, presented the annual delinquent tax collection report at Tuesday’s meeting of the Stephenville City Council.

Despite a troubled economy, Brown said it had been a “really successful year,” and also explained that the report covered the period of Sept. 1, 2008-Aug. 31, 2009.

“You have a great citizenry when it comes to collections,” Brown said. “About 97 percent pay on time.”

The report summarized the work and the results achieved in tax collection on behalf of the city. Brown said more than 5,000 warning letters were sent to delinquent taxpayers. In most cases the letters and request or payments prove profitable. He also said the amounts reported were only relevant to the city and did not include payments due to Erath County or Stephenville ISD.

Councilman Don Zelman asked if the number of letters had increased during the period.

“There was actually a decrease of about 400 letters over the previous year,” Brown said.

When warning letters proved ineffective, the firm backed up their collection efforts with lawsuits. Brown said a total of 43 lawsuits were filed against 63 parcels of property in an effort to collect more $69,000 in delinquent taxes, penalties and interest. But Brown said when faced with lawsuits, many taxpayers ante up.

“During this reporting period, we have dismissed, as paid, a total of 21 lawsuits which involved in excess of $22,569.09,” Brown’s report stated.

“That doesn’t sound like much, but that is a good thing,” Brown said. “We are generally able to settle before we get to this point.”

In addition, courtroom judgments were taken in 11 lawsuits which involved more than $8,300. When efforts to collect on the judgments against four tracts of property failed, tax sales were prosecuted in each.

In regards to total collections, the report said just over $88,162 was collected for the period, which is about $14,000 more than the previous year. 

Councilman Alan Nash asked what the city could expect in the next reporting period, following a full year of recession. And while Brown said there is no way of knowing, a decrease could be likely.

“I wouldn’t be surprised with a percent or two drop, due to the loss of a good number of jobs,” Brown said.

But Brown said despite the economy, most people are paying their taxes.

“People are reprioritizing and working to keep what they have,” he said.