05/09/10 — County watching tax collection rate closely

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County watching tax collection rate closely

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 9, 2010 1:50 AM

Wayne County's tax collection rate through April 30 continues to lag just slightly behind the total for the same period last year even though the actual number of dollars collected is higher.

The county has collected 95.89 percent compared to 95.96 percent for the previous year, down .07 percent. The percentage will continue to vary through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends on June 30.

The total tax levy is slightly more than $45 million -- of which $43.6 million has been collected compared to $42.3 for the previous year, a difference of $1.2 million.

"As far as actual money collected, we are a little ahead, but that it is because the levy is more," Tax Administrator David Ward said.

Ward said he hopes to have the rate up to 97 percent by the end of the fiscal year.

"I cannot guarantee that we will get there," he said.

Roughly 70,000 bills were mailed representing $5.369 billion in total property value. That does not include the value of licensed vehicles and the public services.

The vehicle tax collection continues to trail property tax collection. Thus far, about $4.2 million has been collected, about 78.64 percent of the total. The collection rate is up slightly by .97 percent over the same period for the previous year.

Two factors appear to factor into the increase, tax collector Tammy Peele said.

"I think part of that is enforced collection actions," she said. "I think part of it as well is that we are billing less because people are just not buying new cars. So we are billing less so it is less for us to collect as well.

"We are seeing that the bills are smaller than they used to be so people are in a little better position to pay those bills just because they are holding onto (vehicles) longer and the values are dropping some".

There is about a three-month lag time between the time a person renews his or her vehicle registration and when he or she receives the tax bill.

Once the tax is delinquent, the county can place a block on the next renewal for the tags. Even then, some people do not pay the taxes until it is time to renew their tags again.

That was to have changed in July 2011 when a new law was to have gone into effect that would require people to pay their taxes before getting their vehicle tags, not after.

However, that has now been pushed back to 2013 to allow the DMV time upgrade its computer hardware and software.

Property taxes were due Jan 5. Two percent interest was added to the taxes not paid by that date. An additional three-fourths of one percent is added each additional month on the amount of taxes still delinquent.

As is provided by law, the county published in March a list of delinquent taxpayers and the amount owed

In some cases, the county has begun garnisheeing wages.

By state law, employers collect 10 percent of the person's wages once the notice has been served. The number of people who are having wages garnisheed are about the same as prior years, she said.

The county can also attach lottery winnings as well as North Carolina state income tax refunds.

Another tool to recoup delinquent taxes is foreclosure and the county is working on several of those, Ward said.

Ms. Peele said it would be difficult to provide an accurate number for the past year because most of the foreclosures involve multiple years of back taxes being owed.

"Our folks are working at full capacity (to collect)," Ms. Peele said. "We are pushing about as hard as we can to get where this is now."

Ward said his department will work with people to help get the taxes paid. However, once the process has begun, it is too late to do that unless that can come in pay it all off, he said.

"We still encourage folks to do that," he said.

Also, tax officials said the county will work with taxpayers on a payment schedule to pay the taxes over a period of time. It is too late for the 2009 taxes, but not for 2010.

People can make regular payments and those are reflected when the tax bill is mailed.

Another state requirement the county is working on is its 2011 property revaluation. Ward expects the task to be well under way by fall.

New property values will hit the mail in early 2011.

Ward said it is too early to predict how the values will change. That, he said, will depend on what happens during the rest of the year and 2010.

The values in place are those established during the 2003 revaluation.