Tax appeals denied

Published 7:21 pm Wednesday, February 4, 2015

JACKSON – Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

On Monday, the Northampton County Commissioners held true to that aforementioned statement, one developed over two years ago when the board weighed their options on how to handle 10 cases of taxpayer appeals dealing with the late application process of Present Use property assessments.

In two separate cases to come before the board Monday regarding late applications for tax relief, the Commissioners denied both appeals. However, in the end, the board vowed to take a hard look at how they currently deal with such issues.

Frederick Hux appealed to the Board that they release $438.10 in exempted property tax based on the fact he is qualified based on a state statute dealing with disabled military veterans.

However, the issue in this case was he failed to meet a June 1, 2014 deadline in submitting an application for the Veteran Exclusion, according to Cathy B. Allen, Northampton County Tax Administrator. She informed the Board that Hux did not file the application for tax relief until Dec. 2 of last year, although he does meet the requirements because he is a disabled veteran.

In his defense, Hux said when he filled out the paperwork at the Veterans Administration office regarding the tax exemption, he was under the impression that he had completed the process.

“I didn’t know I was supposed to go by the (Northampton) tax office and fill out more paperwork; if I had known that I would have handled that,” Hux explained to the Board.

Scott McKellar, legal counsel to the Commissioners, said after speaking with the North Carolina School of Government on this particular issue, he is under the impression that the Board previously developed a legal opinion that ignorance of the law is not an excuse when it came to showing good cause.

“I’ve researched case law and no where can I find a definition of good cause,” McKellar said. “I believe good cause is subjective to determination of the facts and circumstances of each particular case. If this Board wants to follow the previous legal opinion, it can do so. You’re also free to vote your conscience as to what constitutes good cause.”

Commissioner Robert Carter said on Sept. 13, 2012, the Board approved a measure saying that ignorance of the law was no excuse for filing a late application for tax relief. He also cited a state statute that said any tax that has been released, refunded, or compromised may be recovered from any member of the governing body who voted in favor of the release of those funds.

“Based on what this Board did back in 2012 and based on this general statute I just cited, I move that the appeal filed by Mr. Hux be denied,” said Carter.

That motion was approved without objection. However, Commission Vice Chairman Joe Barrett reminded Hux that he can apply for the Veteran Exclusion again for the next tax year, but to do so in a timely manner.

“I want to make sure that our Tax Department works with Mr. Hux to get this cleared up for next year,” Barrett said.

Hux said he understood, but suggested that the local VA officer needs to inform those seeking a Veteran Exclusion that they need to complete the process at their local tax office.

The fate of another taxpayer fell under the same scenario on Monday.

In 2013, James H. Sheffield of Midlothian, VA, who owns property in Northampton County, responded to a Present Use Audit sent by the local Tax Office. Allen told the Board that Sheffield did not complete the entire audit form as he failed to supply the gross income for the farmland he owns.

Thusly, Sheffield lost the Present Use (agriculture) Assessment of that land, meaning the taxes were rolled back to full value.

Allen also informed the Board that a letter was sent to Sheffield on Sept. 3, 2013, advising him that he had 60 days to appeal the decision to roll back the tax value. That 60-day time period ended Nov. 4, 2013. Sheffield filed an appeal and submitted a late Present Use application on Dec. 29, 2014.

The total roll back bill is listed at $2,433.40.

In his defense, Sheffield said he attempted, and failed, on several occasions to learn the gross income for the farmland from the individual leasing that land. He added that due to relocating from his primary residence in the summer of 2013, he never received the mailing from the Northampton Tax Office advising him of the appeal procedure.

“If I had known back in 2013 that there was an issue, I would have taken care of it,” said Sheffield. “I thought everything was fine. I didn’t know I needed to file an appeal.”

Sheffield added that he didn’t learn of the roll back value on his Northampton land until receiving his tax bill for 2014.

“That’s when I learned something was amiss,” he said.

Carter again hammered home the point that ignorance of the law is no excuse. He cited 10 landowners who failed to make timely applications in 2012 for Present Use Assessments.

“When making a decision about taxation, the decision we reach must be consistent,” Carter stressed. “This Board set precedence back in 2012, therefore a decision to approve a late Present Use application would be a disservice to the previous taxpayers.”

Carter motioned to deny Sheffield’s appeal, which was passed without objection.

“These issues keep coming up, and I’m not laying any blame, but I feel we need to do everything we can to make sure that the citizens, the taxpayers, are guided in a proper manner about things they are not familiar with,” suggested Barrett. “We need to relook at our policies and procedures to see if there is something we can do. We work for the taxpayers. Whatever policy we do put in place, we need to make sure they understand it and make it easy for them to follow.”

Carter said he agreed, but stated the taxpayers need to become proficient in the policies and laws.

“If it affects me, I’m going to find out all I can about it,” Carter stated.

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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