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One day from now, a property that has belonged to one family for five generations will be headed to the auction block.
Richmond resident Kimberly Winn stands to lose her family’s two-acre plot in Toano if she cannot write a check for $2,431.67 to James City County by end of business Friday.
Winn, a disabled Army veteran who walks with a cane, said her only source of income is disability compensation through the Department of Veterans Affairs. As a result, her attempts to pay off the property have been a financial hardship.
Winn said she was stationed in Seoul, South Korea during the first Gulf War era. She was in the Army for two years and held the rank of E-3.
Winn, her father’s only child, said she inherited the property on Hill Lane through her father’s will in 1998. Her grandparents once lived on the property and had a watermelon patch.
“It’s been an uphill battle,” Winn said. “It’s like I’m holding on to a part of their dream. I’m the only one that can hold onto the legacy.”
The property was delinquent on taxes in 1998, and as the new owner, those taxes fell upon Winn. The property fell further and further into delinquency as Winn was unable to make payments to the county.
According federal disability compensation guidelines for veterans, Winn takes home between $130.94 and $2,858.24 in disability every month, her only source of income. Winn said her disability is service-connected, however, she declined to disclose the amount of disability compensation she receives each month.
According to Shamika Monroe, Delinquent Collections Supervisor for James City County, Winn and the county agreed on payment plans in 2007 and 2010, the latter for $100 per month. Both times, Winn was unable to make full payments.
“Originally she owed delinquent real estate taxes,” said County Treasurer Jennifer Tomes. “We had numerous attempts to make payment agreements that weren’t kept.”
County Administrator Bryan Hill was able to secure another payment plan for Winn beginning Feb. 4, 2016. By this time, Winn’s debt had swollen to $6,656.81 as a result of interest and late fees. The payment plan called for a $600 down payment and monthly payments of $350.
“She wanted to make a payment plan so we made that accommodation for her,” Monroe said. “Normally, if you want the sale to stop you have to pay in full.”
Winn was able to fulfill her payments this time and made a lump-sum payment for 1,900.18 in January 2017 to pay off the remainder of the tax debt. A few days later, she received a letter from Monroe on Jan. 24. The letter proclaimed that the county would no longer accept payments for outstanding real estate taxes, as all taxes had been paid in full.
“I was relieved!” Winn said. “After all these years I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, it’s finally to a point where I can breathe now and I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
The price of hidden costs
Winn’s victory was short-lived. On Feb. 2, Winn emailed Jennifer Tomes requesting information about a balance she was still listed as owing to the county.
“I was able to settle my debt to the county (ref: Delinquent Taxes),” she wrote. “However, there remains a balance in which I wish to discuss the parameters of this sum.”
Tomes responded Feb. 9 and told Winn the property was delinquent $2,431.67 in guardian ad litem fees, commissioner fees and attorney fees. If Winn did not pay the delinquent fees by Feb. 28, Tomes said the property would be auctioned off, before granting her an extension until the end of March.
To Winn, this was a shock, as she said the previous letter from Monroe led her to believe the property was paid off.
“It didn’t seem like it was fair, you work so hard toward a particular goal, you pay the initial back taxes,” Winn said. “I was under the impression that I was okay…It’s devastating to get to the point where you think you’ve accomplished something.”
However, Monroe stated that the payment plan — which Winn signed — indicated that the $6,656.81 Winn owed in Feb. 2016 did not include attorney fees of $1,250 or 2016 real estate taxes. The fees referred to the legal expenses the county accrued during their dealings with Winn.
Monroe added that it would be possible for Winn to apply for a payment plan to pay off the attorney fees, but according to Tomes, “Her history doesn’t bode well for her.”
According to Virginia code 58.1-3965, local governments may sell land delinquent on taxes — and for fees stemming from the owner’s delinquency.
“I don’t want the other taxpayers paying off her debt,” Monroe said. “We want to make the county whole.”
Winn acknowledged that the county has the right to sell her property- but that does not mean she agrees with the law.
“That’s not right. If you have paid off your initial taxes — maybe we need to change these laws,” said Winn. “They don’t actually address how it will affect the citizens. It’s what good for the commonwealth not for the citizens.”
Winn added, “I’m an everyday person. I’m trying to survive like everyone else.”
According to Monroe, no auctions are scheduled at this time. Winn will have until the day of the auction to pay off the existing fees and keep her property.
“It doesn’t give us a good feeling, but at the end of the day we have to collect our taxes for the county, which allows the county to operate and fund schools, roads and meet the budget,” Monroe said.
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