Paying Late: Tax Lien List Shrinks -- For Now
If your name was missing from the county's tax lien advertisement this month, you can breathe freely.
And you have plenty of company in Moore County, where the tax collection rate -- in excess of 99 percent for the past 17 years -- is one of the highest, if not the highest, in North Carolina.
County Tax Administrator J. Wayne Vest said this year's list of tax lien properties is actually 14 parcels shorter than it was in 2008. A special section listing all the tax liens appearing in the March 11 edition of The Pilot listed 3,892 parcels on which 2008 property taxes had not been collected. The 2008 ad listed 3,906 parcels for the 2007 tax year.
Vest is not sure exactly why collections are little changed this year, despite the dismal economy across the nation. The apparent answer is the relative affluence of a majority of Moore County property owners and their savvy when it comes to handling their property.
"People are holding on to the money they have," he said. "They're trying to recoup their losses."
Nevertheless, Vest is concerned about economic conditions in the county and is aware that the situation may worsen by next year -- pointing to the high unemployment rate, now about 10 percent, and the fact that some residents are losing heavily in their 401k funds as well as stock holdings and other savings and investments. He also took note of a story in the Sunday edition of The Pilot describing a slowdown on golf courses, a mainstay of the county economy.
As of this week, the Moore County Tax Department had collected 97 percent of the taxes owed for 2008.
The collection rate last year was 99.66 percent, and Vest and his staff want to maintain that rate. However, he admits that the next 2 percent will be tough to collect by June.
Another reason that the county's collection rate is so high on a consistent basis is the number of tools the tax office has been allowed by the Board of Commissioners. First, a monthly penalty of three-quarters of a percent is levied after the Jan. 5 due date. Then the tax office has such options as garnishment of wages, bank attachments and a levy on personal property.
"Foreclosure is the last thing we want to do, but it is a mechanism available to us," Vest said.
In the past, the owners of some properties with exceptionally high values have waited until February or March to pay their taxes because the penalty was lower than the interest rate accruing on investments. That may not be the case this year because of extremely low interest rates and because of investment losses.
"We didn't see a huge change in the number of liens advertised this year," Vest said. "That may be because our county is better off than some counties. At least, we like to think so."
Vest said Moore is not the only county with a good collection rate so far this year. From a collection standpoint, he has learned that other counties are likewise experiencing collections similar to those of previous years.
That is far from the case everywhere. For example, Wake County, the heart of the prosperous Research Triangle Park, recently advertised 12,100 past-due parcels, almost 33 percent higher than the listing for the previous year.
Moore County has about 66,000 real estate parcels on its books, and in an average year the county adds about 1,000 parcels.
The tax base for this year is expected to reach $11.4 billion, from which the county expects to collect almost $54 million in property taxes.
Tax notices are dispatched in late July or early August. Payments begin immediately, with the heaviest payments between September and December as property owners try to beat the Jan. 5 deadline. Late payments, with penalties, are accepted a few more weeks, but if the property owner is too tardy, there is the risk of embarrassment when names are published.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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