(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
· You Are NOT Under Arrest ·
A long-time friend who recently moved out of Reno County contacted me by email. She told me that during the hectic hubbub of her move, she hadn’t received or had lost the second half of her property tax notice.
Since I used to serve civil papers, working out of the courthouse, she thought I might be able to answer some questions for her.
Now, before I continue, I must inform the reader that my friend has an excellent sense of humor—in my opinion. She drips with sarcasm!
Also, as I was communicating back and forth with my friend by email on my phone, my attention was divided to my personal computer screen. I was multi-tasking and doing it poorly. I only glanced at her messages.
One told me of the letter she received: she was DELINQUENT! She could no longer pay her taxes online or at the Courthouse Annex. She would have to pay the taxes at the SHERIFF’S OFFICE, not the tag department.
My friend wisecracked, “Am I a criminal now?”
Somewhere in my aging brain I knew that something didn’t sound right. I figured she should still have a couple of weeks to pay the tax at the Courthouse Annex before being required to pay it at the Sheriff’s Office’s Civil Process unit in the historic courthouse.
I recalled reports of people receiving threatening phone calls, allegedly from the sheriff’s office: if they didn’t immediately pay their delinquent tax bill, they would be arrested.
Was this a Nigerian fraudulent operation, a Russian probe, a local con, or miscommunication? Or, was my friend just having fun in her sarcastic way? I played along.
“To save time you can send me the money directly to my personal email,” I joked.
Confused, she replied, “I can’t send money to an email.”
I continued my attempt at asking the improbable: “You can send it to my PO Box.”
“Should I make the check out to the Reno County Treasurer?”, she asked. Boy, she was really getting into this role playing, I thought.
“Blank actually works best for both you and me. It will be faster and less worry,” I wrote, trying to sound grammatically suspect, laughing about the outrageousness of asking her to send a signed blank check through the mail.
She mocked me: “You are my knight in shining armor!”
I knew that con artists often tell their potential victim to not reveal to anyone else that they are sending money to strangers. “Great! Remember this is a special favor we’re doing for you. Let’s just keep this between the two of us until the receipt letters go out in the mail.”
“Wow! Thanks!” my friend playfully responded.
I couldn’t stop. I knew that a real con was traumatic and not funny, but I rationalized that we were just playing around. I tried to sound like a no-good shyster straight out of an AARP Bulletin article that warned the elderly to beware of fraud.
With a big smile, not an evil heart, my fingers typed: “To avoid these problems from occurring in the future, we do offer a special insurance coverage at a reasonable rate. If you contact me in the next ten minutes, I’ll give you further details. But hurry, this is a limited time offer.”
“You know, I suspect this might be a SCAM because we no longer live in Reno County!” was her brief response.
“Actually, due to recent personnel shortages,” I wrote, “I’ve been approved to cover both Reno and Sedgwick counties. No worry.”
Two days later I received a letter from my friend the old fashioned way: the US mail. I opened it and was stunned! I sat and stared at a personal property tax bill and a blank signed check.
The realization hit me: I had volunteered to pay her taxes!
I shot off a message to my friend: “I feel so stupid! When you and I were sending emails back and forth, I thought that you were sharing with me a real scam! I was just playing! No kidding! Now that I have your check, I guess I’ll go pay your taxes. Or purchase a car. This is so funny! I really must learn to read my emails more carefully. I don’t think I read the first one. I’ll keep you informed so your name isn’t in the section of the Hutchinson News where DELINQUENT criminals are listed! P.S. If I get arrested I may need to use your check to bond myself out of jail.”
I was having fun again, helping keep alive a wide-spread misunderstanding about tax warrants. When most people hear the word “warrant” they quickly jump to the conclusion that an arrest will follow. This is NOT true on property tax.
“Warrant” means that it’s an authorized document. So a tax warrant is an authorized document issued to the sheriff’s office for collection of taxes; an arrest warrant is an authorized document to arrest someone.
When a civilian or officer serves a tax warrant, it’s part of civil law, not criminal law. If the property tax on a car trailer is not paid, that’s a civil issue dealing with money and ownership.
Usually property taxes in Kansas, if paid in two installments, are due by December 20 and on or before May 10. To avoid late penalties they need to be paid on time. The County Treasurer’s Office, 125 W 1st Ave., Hutchinson, is the location to pay the tax bill until the delinquent cases are turned over to the Sheriff’s Office for collection.
Once the Sheriff’s Office is handed over the responsibility to collect the previous year’s (but not other past years) delinquent taxes, then the bill is paid at the Civil Process Office in the Reno County Courthouse (mezzanine/2nd floor), not at the Law Enforcement Center.
Besides incurring interest on your bill, here’s an incentive to pay property taxes on time: Until a person’s delinquent tax bill is paid in full, the property owner will be unable to renew their vehicle tags or title a new vehicle.
I headed for the Reno County Courthouse Annex to pay my friend’s delinquent tax bill, but first I had a few stops to make.
I swung by Midway Motors; it has the best service personnel on the planet. After taking a photo of the car lot and sign, I messaged it to my friend with the caption: “Since I have your signed blank check, thought I’d purchase a car today.”
Then I visited the Hutchinson Art Center (HAC). My messaged photograph was accompanied by another comment: “Looking for great art! If you’re lucky, I’ll purchase items at the incredible gift shop, not from the latest art exhibition.”
Finally, I stopped at Bluebird Books and Café for a delicious bite to eat, just a few blocks from the Annex. “A person can never have too many great books,” I wrote and pushed send.
I checked my mobile Qless phone app and realized I’d better hurry so as to not lose my virtual place in line.
While waiting just a couple of minutes in the Courthouse Annex, I met and carried on a conversation with a friendly Hutchinson police officer.
I asked him if he’d heard about a certain commissioner who was trying to take away overtime pay for deputies. His response was classic! He rolled his eyes and then the pupils disappeared so only the whites were visible! We didn’t need to waste our time discussing it.
My Qless number was called and I received extremely efficient assistance. I took a photo of my friend’s personal check and sent her the image. I did the same with the receipt.
In minutes I was free!
I was not arrested!
Until next time, happy writing and reading!