A Richland councilwoman facing re-election says she and her husband fell nearly three years behind on their property taxes after several difficult years, but are making payments to catch up.
Dori Luzzo Gilmour, who is completing her first two-year term, owed more than $6,250 in past-due property taxes, penalties and interest on their Howell Avenue home in late July.
Rumors that Luzzo Gilmour had not paid property taxes in nearly three years began bubbling up at the time of the August primary. She survived the primary and will face off against real estate executive Michael Alvarez in the November general election.
It’s unusual for elected leaders to fall behind on property taxes given the ease with which the public can research property records and the scrutiny that comes with being in a position to raise and spend taxes.
The Tri-City Herald reviewed the property tax records of more than 40 candidates for city council posts in Richland, Kennewick, Pasco and West Richland.
We used addresses the candidates supplied on election forms and searched property records using names. Not all candidates appear to own homes or real estate, though ownership can be obscured by trusts or limited liability corporations with vague names rather than an individual’s name.
Elected officials are not required to own property to serve on city councils.
Property taxes fund an array of government functions, including city and county activities, parks, schools, justice systems, fire districts, law enforcement and more. Property taxes comprise about 38 percent of the revenue that flows to Richland’s $55 million general fund budget.
There is a property with a delinquent tax bill owned by Robert J. Thompson of Richland’s Meadow Springs neighborhood. It is not the same Robert J. Thompson who currently serves as Richland’s mayor.
Benton County property records list Dorothy L. Luzzo as the sole owner of the Howell home but she told the Herald she co-owns it with her husband, Joe.
Until this week, records indicated no property tax payments were made for 2015, 2016 and for the first half of 2017, which were due in late April.
The past-due bill includes $2,719 for 2015, $2,436 for 2016 and $1,099 for the first half of 2017. The figures include overdue taxes, as well as an administrative assessment, penalties and interest.
Luzzo Gilmour confirmed Thursday that her husband, Joe, paid off the balances for 2015 and 2016 last week. And the payments were reflected in Benton County property records available to the public on Thursday.
The county initiates foreclosure proceedings when property taxes fall three years past due, which would have happened had Luzzo Gilmour missed the October deadline to pay the balance of the 2017 bill.
While the 2015 and 2016 bills are now current, the first half payment of $970 for 2017 tax bill is past due and is accruing penalties and interest.
As a city council member, Luzzo Gilmour helps set the city’s budget and priorities.
She ran in 2015 as an outsider pledging to bring a working-class sensibility to a council dominated by executives.
She said she’s done that, challenging spending priorities and agonizing over the city’s move to impose a $20 car tab fee on residents to help pay for the $38 million Duportail Bridge project and fund pavement maintenance.
The council voted 7-0 to levy the car tab fee, an unpopular move that helped heat up the current election cycle, where four of seven seats are up for election.
I’m probably the only city council person who ever had to go to a food bank before. We are not wealthy.
Dori Luzzo Gilmour, Richland City Council
This week, Luzzo Gilmour said the council needs a struggling voice. Faced with several tight years, she said she and her husband chose to keep current on their mortgage and other bills.
“I’m probably the only city council person who ever had to go to a food bank before,” she said. “We are not wealthy.”
Luzzo Gilmour acknowledged she continued to send her three children to Christ the King School, a private Catholic school where they received partial scholarships and where she works part-time.
She said she decided to move her children to public school for financial reasons in February. They will enroll in Richland public schools for the coming term.
“When you make decisions for your children’s education, you make the best decision you can,” she said.
Alvarez, her opponent for Position 7 on the council, issued a statement Thursday about the property tax matter.
“I have personally received more than a dozen emails and regular mail from concerned voters regarding this issue. Although I agree it is important for Richland voters to know about, I have run a positive campaign, will continue to do so and have felt no need to address this issue publicly,” he said.
Benton County officials confirm that foreclosure proceedings begin after a property falls three years behind on property taxes but it is exceedingly rare.
In 2014, under then-county Treasurer Duane Davidson, Benton County instituted a delinquent tax payment program to help struggling owners avoid foreclosure. The county foreclosed on one tax-delinquent property in 2015, down from 12 in 2014.
(Editor’s note: This story is updated to reflect that Richland Mayor Robert J. Thompson is not the owner of a property with a delinquent tax bill owned by someone also named Robert J. Thompso.)