The Las Vegas Sun recently ran a brief note about the Dec. 5 death of 59-year-old Carlos Ramirez. Ramirez wasn’t a politician. He wasn’t a star athlete or entertainer. He wasn’t a high roller.
So why was his passing worth noting? Because Ramirez’s plight was one of the more compelling property tax stories you’re likely to read about.
The Sun followed Ramirez’s story for a few years and you can catch up in a series of stories here, but I’ll try to wrap it up in a neat package.
Here’s Ramirez’s obituary in the Las Vegas Review Journal.
In 2009, Ramirez approached the Clark County Commission and laid himself bare. He told them about his health issues and said he’d fallen behind on his property taxes, but desperately didn’t want to lose his 2,700-square foot home he purchased in 1987 near where his mom lived. And he asked for help.
The Commission and others took notice. The community rallied to Ramirez’s cause, donating money after a story ran in the Sun. A marathon runner, Ramirez received huge support from the running community, which donated about $5,800 of the $8,900 he owed in back taxes.
What was it about Ramirez that brought the community together? In 1996, Ramirez underwent surgery to remove four brain aneurysms. During the procedure, he had a stroke and a heart attack and was paralyzed and unable to speak for almost a year. He spent 3½ months in the hospital and was told he’d never walk again but began an exercise program in a swimming pool and eventually got back to running. He used his running platform to raise awareness for diabetes, which he later developed, strokes and heart attacks.
He also helped others in recovering, working with stroke survivors by teaching water therapy at the YMCA. He said he wanted others to see that they can go from being victims to being survivors.
Ramirez’s inspirational story struck a chord with others when he told of the possibility of losing his home. He told the commission he worked three jobs to buy and keep the home, took loans from various family members. He worked as a mechanic for the county until his stroke left him unable to use his tools.
In his late 40s, he began running marathons, his useless left arm held close to his body with a sling. He covered the 26.2-mile distance with a series of hops and limps, using a cane to help him along. It may have taken him 10 hours, but he always finished.
But he wasn’t able to outrun his tax trouble. For awhile, he was able to use his savings and help from his mom to keep up with payments, but that soon dried up and an inability to work made things worse. He received late notices from the county in 2007 and 2008, and a Dec. 2008 letter told him he could potentially lose his home without paying up.
In April 2009, a letter said that his home would be transferred to the county if the taxes weren’t paid. He said he took over the payment of his elderly mother’s bills and got confused, causing him to fall so far behind.
After waiting six hours, he was able to step before the commissioners and plea for his home. Assistant Treasurer Rebecca Coates met with Ramirez and told him he still had time to get up to date on what was owed.
As Ramirez left the hearing, Jay Brown, an attorney from Las Vegas, told Ramirez that he would pay off his penalties if he could find a way to pay off the taxes. Brown said he felt Ramirez’s pain during his plea, had the means to help, so he did.
Ramirez put together a plan to pay off the taxes, selling his tools and applying for jobs at various fast food restaurants.
Then the unexpected began to happen. In a city that in 2008 ranked in the bottom three in the country for volunteerism, a city built on people losing, a community rallied to help. After a story about Ramirez ran in the Sun, people began calling the paper asking how to help. A hundred dollars here, 50 there, another hundred over there. Small amounts, but amazing generosity from people struggling themselves to stay in their homes amidst the devastating housing market.
When Ramirez died in early December, his taxes were completely caught up.