Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir’s office has worked with almost 800 financially struggling taxpayers since the summer of 2011 to educate them via the trustee’s Project H.O.M.E. financial literacy workshop series.
And a new year’s worth of that workshop series is getting under way. Earlier this month, the trustee released a general 2013 schedule for the workshop series, during which taxpayers will learn budgeting basics, how to complete a spending plan and prepare a payment plan with the trustee’s staff to pay off delinquent property taxes so their home doesn’t wind up in a tax sale.
Project H.O.M.E. (Home Ownership Made Easier) workshops will be conducted monthly by the trustee’s community outreach and financial empowerment staff, along with its banking partner Regions Bank.
The workshops will be held on Tuesdays, along with two Saturday workshops this year, and the goal is to help delinquent taxpayers prevent their properties from being sold at the county’s tax sale.
At the weekend workshop, property owners can pay taxes on-site following the workshop session. This year the two Saturday workshops on March 23 and Aug. 24 are being held in advance of the April 8 and Sept. 13 county tax sales to provide taxpayers an additional opportunity to save their property from sale.
Project H.O.M.E. workshops are scheduled every month through December. Dates and times will be posted at shelbycountytrustee.com and the Shelby County Trustee’s Facebook page.
“We started the Project H.O.M.E. series a year and a half ago,” Lenoir said. “They’re monthly workshops, financial education workshops, where we target our delinquent taxpayers. So say we’ve got 25,000 delinquent taxpayers – we’ll target those folks to encourage them to go to a financial education class. That way, hopefully, they will get into a payment arrangement with the trustee’s office to prevent them from losing their property in a tax sale.
“We see it as a win-win, where a lot of these folks are chronically delinquent. Meaning, they just don’t owe one year’s back taxes – they may owe several years’ worth. So we’re hoping to get payment out of them but at the same time provide them with some practical education, financial education.”
The classes are generally one afternoon a month for no more than two hours. Regions partnered with the trustee’s office in early 2012 – “so Regions actually teaches the class, which is really focused on credit repair,” Lenoir said.
Topics covered include how to repair credit, how to check a credit score and how to write to a creditor.
“There’s some basic budgeting covered on getting a handle on where your money’s going,” Lenoir said. “It talks about creative ideas on what you can do to get more income, getting a second job, those kinds of things. It’s not a comprehensive budgeting class – it’s really focused on folks whose backs are against the wall.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Lenoir’s rough estimate is that half of those who’ve gone through the financial workshop have entered into payment plans with the trustee’s office, and some of those don’t live up to their payment plans.
The taxpayers may start by suggesting based on their ability to pay, they could put down $200 and then pay in $100 monthly installments – and then only carry that out for two or three months.
“Still, we’ve certainly increased the focus with this that they need to pay their taxes,” Lenoir said, adding that from an overall collections standpoint, his office’s collections are up and ahead of forecast. “This and the Bank On Memphis program are definitely indicative of the kind of programs I want to launch out of the trustee’s office that deal with the financial health of our community.”
The trustee’s office views the workshops, with the financial education element, as a complement to the similarly focused Bank on Memphis initiative, recently re-launched by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Lenoir. The goal of the Bank On Memphis effort is to target the city’s estimated 100,000 residents who do not have traditional banking relationships, so that they can become “banked” as a way to establish credit and more effectively track spending and to save.