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Collecting taxes could help county balance budget

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Carroll officials still feel they don't have a complete listing of delinquent taxes from the treasurer's office.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Making budget is the reason behind wanting a real estate delinquent tax list from the treasurer, Carroll County supervisors said at their Feb. 11 meeting.
The supervisors first discussed delinquent real estate taxes in January, but the intent isn’t to cause hard feelings between county officials, Supervisor Sam Dickson stressed at the February meeting.
“We seem to have started a small war, which wasn’t my intent,” he said, reacting to a newspaper advertisement taken out by Treasurer Bonita Williams after the original discussion. “My intent was to collect some of the taxes.”
In making up the budget for the present fiscal year, the supervisors included $800,000 on the revenue side being collected from back taxes, Dickson continued.
County officials had trouble getting a list to know what could be collected.
“Of course, it’s pretty obvious we didn’t know how much was out,” the at-large supervisor said. “We thought we had gone through the process in order to find that.”
County Attorney Jim Cornwell said state law has a list of six items that the treasurer is to provide within 60 days of the end of the year, including delinquent taxes.
The governing body of a locality may cause a list of real estate and personal property to be published in a newspaper or put on its website, he said.
“I am aware that the board of supervisors last year, I believe, requested a list pursuant to the statute — I’m not aware the board has received it,” the attorney said.
Dickson said the supervisors had received the Friday before the meeting a partial list of taxes still owed from 1991 to 2008. “So we’re still missing the other part.”
That list has $290,000 in delinquent taxes. Dickson also pointed to an audit report from a year before that had a figure of almost $4 million in outstanding taxes, before the 10 percent penalties and interest is applied.
After 20 years, taxes are deemed uncollectible and they fall off the rolls, Dickson said. In June of last year, he said the county wrote off $450,000 as uncollectible.
“I do know that number also does have some bankruptcies and stuff like that, that you can’t collect...” Dickson said. “Are we reasonably sensible to believe that we have roughly $4 million that we could collect if we had that list?”
Cornwell recalled that the previous conversation included a figure of $10 million, though that was too high.
“In all honesty, we didn’t know what we had,” Dickson said.
County officials discussed how Cornwell had been able to collect delinquent taxes when he had a list to work from. With different groups of properties, the county attorney said he had collected $86,000, $131,000 and $225,000.
“All this money goes to the county,” he said. “I charge you nothing for this because I collect my fee out of property sales or out of the property owner.”
Now, the county officials are getting ready to create another budget, Dickson said.
If the county can collect half the back taxes, they could put that towards a one-time expense like the replacement of the heating and air conditioning system at the high school.
“I think it’s part of our responsibility to try to collect this,” Dickson said. “If you’re going to put it in your budget, you need to be able to collect it.”
It’s all a part of trying to run the county in a businesslike manner, Supervisor Tom Littrell said. The county is a $70 million-a-year business, including the school budget.
“I’ve not heard one person say let’s not try to go after them,” Littrell said. “The usual comment is ‘I pay my taxes, I think everybody else should, too.’”
Littrell also complimented the Public Service Authority on its return on money in the bank, noting the $1.7 million had 2.5 percent interest and brought in an additional $60,000.
“We certainly hope the county is doing the same thing with the monies that we hold in our general fund balance,” he said.