John Thurston, who in 2010 became the first Republican to be elected as Arkansas’s State Land Commissioner since it became an elective office in 1874, told members of the Rotary Club of Arkadelphia recently why he chose to go into public service. Having served 13 years as a staff member of the Agape Church in West Little Rock, “I was interested in politics,” Thurston said, “and believed that public service should be geared toward serving others.”
Primarily, he said, “what we do for you is that we disposition tax-delinquent property. After a parcel is delinquent at the county level for two years, it is certified by that county and sent to our office. Then for another two years, we do title searches, send out regular mail and certified mail in an effort to get the taxes paid.
“If we still fail to get the taxes paid, it goes to public auctions, one per county per year.” In fact, he said, the public auction of 43 parcels for Clark County will be held in the District Court Room at 1 p.m. Thursday, May 23. ”
To give the Rotarians an idea of the increase in parcel numbers in Arkansas, Thurston said that in 2011 there were 15,000 parcels being “researched” for sale. In 2012, there were 24,000 parcels. This year we have right at 50,000 parcels on our books right now. The volume has increased dramatically. Thanks to technology and cross training, we’re okay. And with things being as they are, this is no time to ask for money to hire new people.”
In 2012, Thurston said “we sent back $21 million to Arkansas, most of it to schools. Last year, Clark County received just under $63,000. The original owner gets to collect the proceeds or it goes back to the county, Our goal is not to sell property, but if the tax gets to four and a half or five years delinquent, that’s what we are mandated to do.That’s why we are trying to make it easier on those who are interested in those properties.”