Getting tough on taxes

Published 10:40 am Wednesday, March 16, 2011

GATESVILLE – Delinquent taxpayers need to be warned – Gates County officials are setting their sights on you.

With hundreds of thousands of dollars currently on the books, county leaders are aggressively seeking ways to collect those back taxes, especially those in arrears on paying real property levies.

At their March 2 meeting, the Gates County Board of Commissioners approved the publishing of a listing of names (and amounts due) of the county’s property owners that are now delinquent on their 2010 real estate taxes. As of Feb. 28, there were 1,080 parcels of property from where the real estate tax had not been paid for 2010. The amount of unpaid tax, including interest, stood at $484,518.52.

Commissioner Johnny Hora asked if there was a state statute requiring older tax liens to be published as part of the newer list of names.

“I do not believe there is,” said county Tax Collector Renee McGinnis. “There are a handful of counties that do so as a collection tool.”

Hora said once the listing is published (in the Gates County Index), he would encourage all county citizens to take a look at it.

“If you see your neighbor’s name and they haven’t paid their taxes last year or as far back as say 2004, that needs to serve as a friendly reminder to make comments to your neighbor that it’s time to take some action,” Hora said.

“Embarrassment does work sometimes, but there are others who think (the tax listing) is their 15 minutes of fame,” McGinnis noted.

The board did approve the annual listing (advertisement) of the current year’s back taxes, as required by General State Statute. The publication date will be later this month.

Prior to the vote, Hora again asked if it were possible to publish multiple years of back taxes (other than just 2010) in the newspaper.

“We can put everything that’s owed (to us) in the paper if you like,” McGinnis responded. “What we’ve been doing in the past is publishing these names in a special insert, it’s cheaper that way. The price of that insert is based on the number of pages. I will see how much we need to expand (the insert’s page count) to include the previous years’ real property taxes.”

Hora said he would motion to advertise the delinquent (real property) taxes as far back as 2000 along with the current year (2010) tax liens. The board agreed, contingent upon ensuring that publishing tax liens from 2000-2009 is not in violation of any state statute. Hora’s motion was approved by a 5-0 vote.

Interest on taxes due on real property accrues the first of every month. The annual bill was due Jan. 4, interest began on Jan. 5 at two percent of the amount owed. After that, the interest rate builds by three-quarters of one percent each month.

In another tax related matter, McGinnis suggested using DataMax Interstate Credit Collection to help with directing unpaid taxes to the county coffers. She used 20 instances of at least four-year-old accounts that are delinquent on leasehold property (land owned by one party and the residence owned by another) as an example of what can be turned over to the collection agency. The unpaid taxes, with interest, on those 20 properties stood at $69,789.06 as of February of this year.

“We have looked at other means to collect these taxes and there’s nothing there; our only other recourse is to use a collection agency,” McGinnis said. “They (DataMax) have two methods (of being paid for their services); one is a contingency rate of 25 percent that is payable upon collection…if they do not collect anything then they do not receive anything, or they use a flat (collection) fee, sending letters to those owning the tax at a fee per letter mailed.”

“I feel the contingency rate is the way to go on this,” Commissioner Henry Jordan said. “Even if we give them 25 percent and we collect 75 percent, that’s more than nothing. Plus if they don’t collect, we don’t have to pay them for their performance.”

McGinnis noted that one final letter would be sent to these delinquent taxpayers, informing them that this matter will be turned over to a collection agency if the taxes are not paid (or a payment plan set up) within 30 days.

“This sends a message out that we’re getting serious about collecting taxes due to the county,” Hora said.

“I agree,” Commissioner Jack Owens stated. “The more we talk about this, the more that’s printed in the newspaper about this, then the more informed our citizens will become.”

Jordan motioned for the county to enter into a contract with DataMax and turn over these four-year and older delinquent accounts to the agency for collection on a contingency basis, pending review of the contract by the county manager and county attorney. Hora offered a second and the motion passed without objection.

McGinnis also reminded the commissioners that they needed to open as the Board of Equalization and Review. She said the board’s two newest members – Hora and Owens – would perhaps be in need of a workshop concerning that duty as presented by the NC Department of Revenue.

The commissioners approved the dates of April 26 through May 16 as the time frame (1-4 p.m.) to take appointments to hear citizens’ concerns over property tax issues as the Board of Equalization and Review.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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