11/07/10 — Towns ask for tax collection help

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Towns ask for tax collection help

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on November 7, 2010 1:50 AM

The Duplin County tax office could take over one element of delinquent tax collection for county municipalities.

Most Duplin towns were represented recently at the meeting where Wallace Mayor Charlie Farrior asked the commissioners to take on the task, which is allowed by state statute.

Under the proposal, when someone presents a property deed for registration, the county would conduct a 10-year records search to determine whether any back taxes are due on a property. The process involves sharing information between the county tax office and town offices, causing concern among some officials about delays in registering property deeds.

If there are taxes owed on the property, then the owner would not be able to register the deed until the money was paid, Farrior explained.

State statute 161-31, regarding tax certification, allows county commissioners to require the register of deeds not to accept any deed transferring real property for registration unless the county tax collector has certified that no delinquent ad valorem county taxes, ad valorem municipal taxes or other taxes with which the collector is charges are a lien on the property described in the deed.

The statute further states that the commissioners can also describe in their resolution the exact form the certification must take.

The agreement would include a hold harmless clause. If a town makes a mistake on tax records, the town and not the county would be held responsible, Farrior said.

Additionally to prevent problems that could arise from the process, the town and county communication -- a phone call and two faxes -- must be completed within a certain time period. A maximum of 30 minutes was suggested at the meeting as an appropriate length of time allowable.

There could also be a "delete" clause in the resolution that would allow the county to remove any municipality from the program that did not respond in a timely manner, Farrior said.

Taking on the additional workload should not overburden the county offices, Farrior said. After checking records with most townships in the county, he found that the towns complete the same process about 118 times a year -- averaging out to two per week.

Farrior said the benefit to the county's municipalities would be greater collection of taxes, including back-owed taxes from the last 10 years or so, which affects the level of services that towns can offer residents.

The process is the same one the county itself already has in place. The only difference is it would be communicating with the town offices to take on their workload as well, Farrior said.

"We need this tool," he said.

If there are taxes owed, there will be delays in registering that property until the money is paid, County Attorney Wendy Sivori said.

A drawback to the process is that not all of the town's municipalities operate on the same schedule, or are even open on the same days of the week, potentially causing additional delays.

However, it would also make tax collections easier on towns, Farrior said.

"We in Wallace feel we dedicate more time to collecting the hard to collect taxes than the county office would," he said.

Most tax collections are not a problem, but there are sometimes people who "Are not automatically going to turn around and write you a check," Farrior added.

Commissioner Zettie Williams warned that she could see the need to add additional personnel in the county tax office due to the additional work burden, but Farrior said he did not think it would be necessary.

"I don't believe that there's a department in the county ... that can't take on the extra load of two phone (calls) and two faxes a week," Farrior said.

Additionally, the number may be even lower lately due to the economy. Not as many people are transferring property deeds, Farrior said.

Commissioner David Fussell suggested the county try the procedure on a temporary basis at first, while Commissioner Harold Raynor stated he could see how using the county office could save the towns money.

The commissioners chose to table the discussion until the municipalities meet in a workshop scheduled for later this month. The town and county attorneys will further discuss the issue and possibly examine charging the towns a fee for handling the service.

The commissioners Monday also named a new director for the county Department of Social Services. New director Floyd Bush took the oath of office during the meeting.