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A mistake by a third-party company has caused up to 2,500 Gallatin County residents to receive a potentially outdated notice that their property may have a lien on it that is up for grabs.

Guardian Tax Partners, a Nebraska-based company that buys assignments on tax liens in 13 states, sent “Notice of Pending Assignment” to property owners around Gallatin County last week, indicating that their property has a lien assignment on it and that the company has interest in buying that lien by the end of the month.

Jennifer Blossom, treasurer for Gallatin County, said that she had been in contact with Guardian Tax Partners, and that the blunder came from people within the company looking at the wrong lien list. The list the company used was from early July.

“We are pretty frustrated because times are difficult enough, and taxpayers don’t need more confusion or fear,” Blossom said.

The out-of-date list had roughly 2,500 property owners that were deemed delinquent in their tax payments as of early July. When a person pays off their delinquent taxes, the lien list is updated almost immediately, Blossom said.

But just because the company used an old list doesn’t mean they were entirely incorrect. As of noon on Monday, there were just over 700 properties on the county’s up-to-date lien list, Blossom said.

“We don’t want people to assume that just because you got something from Guardian, that it’s not legitimate, because there are 701 properties out there that are still delinquent,” Blossom said.

The mix-up is causing headaches for property owners and the Gallatin County Treasurer’s Office. Blossom said that when she and staff arrived at the office Monday, they had more than 100 messages from property owners around the county.

Jared Hollinger, president of Guardian Tax Partners, said that he regrets the mistake, not only for the confusion created for taxpayers in Gallatin County that may have wrongly received a notice, but also for employees at the treasurer’s office. He added that Gallatin County does a great job at collecting taxes and providing notices for taxpayers.

The county sends a tax bill split into two parts, one for taxes due in November, and another for taxes due by the end of May.

Most people pay the first half on time, but end up forgetting about the second one, Blossom said. If the second half of the bill isn’t paid on time, the county sends out notices that a lien could be placed on a person’s property and that the property owner should pay before fees, and a potential lien, begin to accrue.

The Gallatin County Treasurer’s Office sent roughly 3,500 of those notices this year, Blossom said. By Aug. 2, the county then had to place liens on property where the taxes haven’t been paid. This year, the treasurer’s office sent out notices to people who still had delinquent taxes outlining what having an assignment on their lien means.

The county’s notice — which was sent out to around 900 people — was sent before Guardian Tax Partners sent its “Notice of Assignment.”

Assignments on liens are given out with the intent of ensuring that counties and local governments can still make money from taxes that may not be paid. This revenue helps governments to not operate outside of their budgets, and to prevent overtaxing in other areas to make up for lost revenue from delinquent taxes.

Montana law gives third-party companies, like Guardian Tax Partners, the ability to buy liens on properties around the state.

The law indicates that assignees — people or companies interested in buying tax lien assignments — can send notices of assignment no earlier than Aug. 15 of each year. From there, those companies have to wait until Aug. 31 to buy an assignment, which then goes to a lottery system where assignees list their preferences in order of which properties’ liens they would like to buy.

“Right now, assignees want these properties because of how much they’re worth now,” Blossom said.

Property values in Gallatin County have continued to increase throughout the year. Taxable values for Bozeman properties increased by almost 20% in the past year. The median sales price for a home in Gallatin County for July was roughly $695,000, according to a monthly report from the Gallatin Association of Realtors. In January of this year, the median sales price for a home was around $560,000.

Assignees can earn a guaranteed 10% of their investment into a lien assignment and, after a two to three year process, could end up with the tax deed and the property.

Property owners who are delinquent in their taxes can still pay them off before or after Aug. 31. But after the deadline, interest and fees begin to accrue, with the interest going to companies that bought the liens.

Gallatin County residents who received a “Notice of Assignment” from Guardian Tax Partners can go to itax.gallatin.mt.gov and input the parcel number on the notice to determine if their property is delinquent.

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Alex Miller is the county and state government reporter and can be reached at amiller@dailychronicle.com or by phone at 406-582-2648.

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