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Board wants to go after delinquent taxes

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Carroll supervisors and county treasurer differ on how much is owed

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Carroll supervisors indicate they would publish a list of delinquent taxpayers to encourage them to pay up — if they could only get that information from the county treasurer.
Not for the first time, Supervisor Sam Dickson says he wants the county officials to get a complete list of delinquent taxes.
At a board of supervisors’ meeting on Jan. 14, County Attorney Jim Cornwell answered that he’d been working on it and had received “some, but not all” of the list.
He reported that he’s been unable to get the complete list from Treasurer Bonita Williams.
At the meeting, Dickson raised a copy of The Declaration newspaper, noting that Grayson County had advertised a complete list of delinquent taxpayers inside.
“Grayson County was able to get a list,” he noted. “Why not us?”
“We could bring an action in circuit court, or bring it up with the treasurer,” the county attorney said.
These records are public, Dickson noted. Any citizens should be able to get it by filing a Freedom of Information Act request.
(Williams, contacted by The Gazette after the meeting, said she will be happy to supply a more detailed delinquent real estate tax list to the supervisors.)
It’s not that Carroll County officials want to make the list to “take everybody’s land,” a concern that Supervisor Josh Hendrick has heard in the community. It’s so the county can make arrangements on payment plans with people who are behind.
In collecting back taxes in eight or nine other localities, Cornwell had been able to present two other governments with checks for as much as $1 and $2 million, the county attorney said.
“We’re working out payment plans,” he told the supervisors. “In this [real estate] market, we’d rather do that than sell their property."
In those other localities, Cornwell could only think of two instances where properties were sold.
Carroll officials estimate there’s more than $10 million in delinquent owed to the county now, covering a span of 20 years, but they haven’t been able to get an actual total.
Speaking to The Gazette, the treasurer called this figure incorrect.
Of the $900,000 in delinquent taxes expected to be collected in fiscal year 2013, the treasurer’s office has received $554,636 to date, Williams said.
For the 2012 real estate taxes to be collected, a little more than $14 million, the treasurer’s office have received almost $13.29 million.
This leaves a 5.64 percent balance to be collected, and some people wait until their federal and state tax refunds come in to pay their local taxes, she said.
“It’s very possible that the collections for the 2012 real estate tax could come close to 99 or 100 percent collected per budgeted amounts.”
Land owners have to be delinquent for two years on their taxes before the county will take action, the county attorney said at the Jan. 14 meeting. Then, property owners get 30 days to work something out, and it can take four to six months before the county can bring a lawsuit and sell a property.
By that time, most taxpayers have worked out a payment plan to stay in their homes, he added.
Citizens don’t think its fair that some property owners get out of paying, Dickson said. “A lady will call and say her neighbor down the road hasn’t paid taxes for years.”
Taxes owed become too much for the property owner after four or five years without any action, Cornwell said. “They get too far behind.”
On a motion by Dickson, the supervisors voted to put the matter on the agenda for their February meeting, with the goal of getting the treasurer to explain and find out how much is owed.
“This has been a concern of mine for some time,” said Supervisor Tom Littrell. “We need a better schedule of collections.”
Other treasurers have told Littrell about better systems for billing and collecting taxes. For example, they have 10 percent penalties for non-payment, multiple late notices are sent and delinquent lists are published in the newspaper.