Tax deadbeats cost us all

Published 8:33 am Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I honestly do not mind having my name published, but I’d rather keep it confined to a phone book or within the pages of this newspaper.

There’s a few places that I’d rather not see my name in lights….on a “Wanted” poster displayed in a post office or police station; on a bathroom wall; or on a delinquent tax list.

The latter of that trio is perhaps the most embarrassing because it tells the world that you are a deadbeat when it comes to doing what’s right in helping the day-to-day operations to function in your town, county, state and nation.

Sure, I’m well aware there are those who are behind in paying their property taxes due to a lack of personal income. That’s even more prevalent today due to a sluggish economy, one where employment opportunities are scarce. There are others….the elderly and disabled….living on fixed incomes. They face tough decisions each and every day – either pay what they owe or use that money for such staples of life as housing, food and medicine.

What drove me to this particular topic was last week’s meeting of the Hertford County Board of Commissioners, a government entity that I cover for this newspaper. As part of their agenda, the board heard an update from Hertford County Tax Collector Gay Sumner. She told the board that delinquent taxes in the county currently exceed a half-million dollars.

I was provided a copy of the delinquent tax list, one containing 249 past due bills totaling $559,678.71. Some are as old as 2001.

As I scanned the list I recognized numerous names…people I know that are very capable of paying their taxes. Some are doing their part by making monthly payments to settle their past due accounts and I commend them for their efforts.

However, many simply ignore repeated collection efforts by county. That job consumes a lot of time each week by the Tax Office staff, hours they could spend performing other tasks.

Those collection efforts also cost more than the hourly wages paid to the county’s staff. There’s the cost of postage to repeatedly send out collection notices, and as we all know the price of a stamp keeps rising.

What really burned my toast was the fact that Hertford County must spend thousands of dollars in legal fees in its tax collection efforts. Depending on the legal legwork involved, one foreclosure can cost upwards of $3,000. You can do the math if all of the current 249 past due accounts wind up in the hands of an attorney.

Last week, the Hertford County Commissioners approved the transfer of another $15,000 from its Contingency Fund to the Tax Office to cover the costs of professional legal services. That Contingency Fund, like the majority of money within the county’s coffers, is built through the pockets of honest taxpayers.

So, let me get this right….I pay my county taxes on time each and every year, but I have to dig a little deeper to help fund legal expenses so that an attorney can go after those who don’t pay their taxes. What’s not right about that picture?


Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be reached at or 252-332-7207.

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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