Property-tax delinquencies are up about 39 percent from last year, according to a Durango Herald analysis of tax notices published this week.
The numbers offer another sign that La Plata County is not immune to the tough economic times gripping the country.
In 2009, $1,348,259 in delinquent property taxes was owed on 1,201 properties compared to $970,388 owed on 962 properties in 2008.
In 2008, the listings took eight pages in the Herald. This year, they require 12 pages.
La Plata County Treasurer Ed Murray said that in tight times taxes can go unpaid.
This year, he said, more subdivisions appear to have cropped up in the listings as new lots and homes sit unsold.
"Often times in the these kinds of economic times some developers will let the taxes go delinquent on subdivision lots in hopes that then as they sell them they can get them paid up," Murray said.
The Lodge/Village at Purgatory had nearly 30 properties listed as delinquent and Mesa Meadows in Bayfield had more than 50.
Other subdivisions with multiple listings included Greenfield, The Cove and Ptarmigan Ridge – all projects linked to bankrupt developer James G. Kreutzer.
Ed Morlan, executive director of the Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado, said the jump is not surprising.
"Money is tight, and people have got to pay what they can," he said.
Because property taxes can go delinquent for three years before the owners risk losing their properties, people tend to put them low on their priority list, behind groceries and utilities.
Not only are more property owners in a hole, the hole they are in is deeper. The greatest amount owed in 2008 was $34,680. This year’s is $106,341.
Other signs of the slump abound.
Morlan said Region 9 has seen a sharp increase in delinquent payments on loans the district has made to businesses. Often, the reason is that the business closed.
Likewise, sales-tax revenue has declined, foreclosures have risen, and more people are being laid off, including 27 positions slashed at the city.
At least we may be seeing the worst of it.
"The good thing is, experts say we’re at the bottom," Morlan said.
Even some in the hard-hit field of real estate are finding cause for optimism.
Geof Schlittgen, broker-owner of Horizon Properties in Durango, remains bullish on the future of the Durango market.
He was recently quoted in a Herald article saying, "When recovery comes, I think we’re going to recover much faster than the urban areas. … It’s just a question of when."