Plymouth Park Tax Services proudly proclaims that it has “provided over $4 billion to governments through the purchase of real estate tax liens.”
About $33 million of that went to Cuyahoga County, where outgoing Treasurer Jim Rokakis has worked with the New Jersey company since 1999. The idea is that it’s preferable to get something rather than nothing out of people who don’t pay their property taxes. For the county, it’s essentially selling the debt to a collection agency.
And Plymouth Park knows how to play tough: One year after it buys a tax lien from the county, it can take the house by foreclosure if the owner still hasn’t paid up.
Problem is, Plymouth Park has a little payment problem of its own. A search of Cuyahoga County Auditor records shows that, among the roughly 100 Cuyahoga County properties Plymouth Park now owns, 37 still have outstanding tax bills. Many of those bills are for amounts comparable to the delinquent taxes that caused the county to sell the liens in the first place.
The good news: Plymouth Park won’t be snapping up any more deep-discount properties. These days, the county transfers liens to the county-run Land Bank, which serves the same purpose but eliminates the middle man. But the company is still on the hook for its own debt to the county.
“They are no different from anyone else,” Rokakis says. “They have to pay their taxes.”