03/10/06 — $2 million still out in taxes

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$2 million still out in taxes

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on March 10, 2006 2:02 PM

Delinquent taxpayers owe Wayne County more than $2 million, and they can expect to see their names in Sunday's newspaper.

The county annually publishes the names of property owners who have not paid their taxes and the amount they owe.

County Tax Supervisor David Ward said the practice helps convince some people to come up with the money.

"There are some people that will see their name in the paper and come in to pay their taxes. They either forgot or they didn't have the money, but most of them know they are delinquent. Then we have to do what we can to collect," he said.

The deadline for paying property taxes was Jan. 5. A late penalty was added after that.

People who still have not paid could face other remedies the law gives the county. Tax officials can garnish wages, attach the debt to bank accounts or the taxpayer's state tax refund or even seize accounts and personal property. If all else fails, the county can take the taxpayer to court and foreclose on the property.

The tax levy on all property in Wayne County for 2005 is about $39 million.

Assistant Tax Administrator Alan Lumpkin said there will always be delinquent taxpayers, just like there will always be people who wait until the last minute to pay their taxes.

"It never fails. We always have big lines for the people that try to pay before the deadline," he said.

After the Jan. 5 deadline, delinquent taxpayers were charged 2 percent interest for the first month and three-quarters of a percent for each additional month of non-payment. Immediately after the deadline passes, the tax department staff begins looking for ways to find the money.

"We use what we can to take care of business," Ward said.

Eventually, most tax bills are paid. The county has collected 98 percent of 2004 taxes. The goal for this year is to have collected 97 percent by the end of the fiscal year in June. The county's tax base is about $5.3 billion.

Although the tax office tries to collect the entire amount, Lumpkin said collecting 100 percent is nearly impossible because of taxpayers that have filed for bankruptcy or left the state.

Property taxes are levied on real property, such as land and homes, and on personal property, such as mobile homes, boats and motor vehicles. For businesses, personal property can include computers, office furniture, machinery and fixtures.

Last year, the county commissioners increased the property tax rate from 66 cents to 73.5 cents for each $100 worth of property.

Delinquent taxpayers are sent notices, warning them that their names and the amount owed will be published. After all other remedies have been exhausted, the remaining delinquent tax accounts are handed over to the county's tax attorney to begin foreclosures, Ward said.

"By that point, we have used all means we have here in the office. The attorney is our last resort," he said.