HC targets delinquent taxpayers

Published 8:13 am Monday, January 5, 2015

WINTON – How does the old saying go: “There are two things certain in life – death and taxes.”

The latter, or the lack of payment thereof, was the topic for discussion a recent meeting of the Hertford County Board of Commissioners.

After county Tax Collector Gay Sumner updated the board regarding numerous taxpayers delinquent in their payments to the county followed by a brief discussion by the elected leaders, the Commissioners gave Sumner the green light to proceed with plans to start foreclosure proceedings on 29 property owners as well as send letters to 33 others, informing them they are 30 days away from the county using foreclosure to collect back taxes.

The total amount due in back taxes (excluding 2014) for those on the foreclosure list amounts to $69,681.34. With the exception of one ($405.48), the taxes due are in the thousands of dollars, to include a high of $10,626.78. Three of the 29 have not paid a dime on their taxes since 2008; five since 2009.

“These account are ready to go to the Irvine Law Firm to start foreclosure,” Sumner said.

The list of 33 property owners are a combined $46,829.51 in arrears. They range from a low of $14.67 to a high of $10,550.25. The majority (26) are less than three years behind on their taxes. However, there are two who have not paid taxes since 2004.

“This group will be, if you approve, sent a letter that states they have 30 days to settle their accounts, after which the foreclosure proceedings will begin,” Sumner said.

Hertford County Manager Loria Williams reminded the Commissioners of the costs, initially bore by the county and later, and hopefully, recovered when the property is sold, associated with the foreclosure process.

“Some of this property may not be necessarily want you want to hold (for a period of time),” Williams said. “In some of these cases where the letters are ready to be sent, the cost of the legal procedures will be more than what the county can collect. There’s also an issue where these taxes are about to fall off the books (10-or-more years in arrears) and will be uncollectable.”

“The main purpose of the letter is to remind the taxpayer that these taxes are past due and the next step will be foreclosure,” Sumner noted. “Hopefully we’ll get some response from those letters, thus preventing their property going into foreclosure. Unfortunately I can’t say the same thing about the first list. They have already received their letters and of the 29 on that list, none chose to respond within the 30-day time period.”

Sumner said the amount of legal fees associated with a foreclosure varies from case to case. Some will be higher because more title work is needed to research the property. Then comes the filing fees and other associated court costs.

“The complexity of the title search is what tends to drive up the cost,” said Murfreesboro attorney Chuck Revelle who serves as legal counsel to Hertford County local government. “That’s an unknown value up front; it can get really expensive when there are multiple heirs to a piece of property.”

After studying both lists, Commissioner Johnnie Ray Farmer noted that on a couple of occasions a taxpayer had made a payment as recent as one month ago towards their past due amount.

“We have some who do come in and make a payment here and there….for example, there’s one who paid $50 back in January, then $100 the next month, then they skip a few months and come back in June and pay $50,” Sumner said. “They pay different amounts and are inconsistent with those payments. Some will just stop paying all together.”

Williams added that there is a payment plan offered to any taxpayer. She said it is specific in nature, meaning that the taxpayer agrees to pay a certain amount over a pre-determined amount of time.

“It’s not an open-ended agreement,” Williams stressed. “Our payment plan is built to assist taxpayers, but what we find is that the taxpayer starts out well in that process and then lapses in their payments, and that’s not what they agreed to do upon entering into the payment plan. We’ve had some taxpayers to be on three, four or five payment plans over a period of years. That also adds to the workload of our office staff in issuing and re-issuing letters and monitoring the process. Our good faith effort is sometimes abused.”

In a pair of separate motions, the Commissioners approved both lists without objection.

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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