Delinquent tax payers owned Moore County $1.37 million when the county published its annual tax liens in the March 8 edition of The Pilot.
The 12-page section listed the names of delinquent tax payers, their properties and how much they owed. So what’d the county get in return for its approximately $8,000 expense for the section?
Would you believe a return of 1,000 times its cost?
As of Monday, nearly $821,000 of the $1.37 million has been paid, leaving a balance of $550,200, according to Tax Administrator Gary Briggs.
Each March, counties in North Carolina are required to publish tax liens, a list of delinquent taxpayers as of Jan. 1 for the previous year and the amounts owed on various parcels of property.
“It still turns out to be an effective mechanism,” Briggs said of the special section in The Pilot. “People look for other people’s names. It might make some more likely to pay next time. It is just one part of the process for collecting property taxes.”
Briggs said Moore County prides itself for having one of the best tax collection rates in the state as it makes every effort to get people to pay their taxes on time.
“We have a lot of good taxpaying citizens,” he said.
For the previous fiscal year, the county collected 99.71 percent of the total levy, according to the report Briggs presented to the commissioners last July. That marked the 24th straight year the county’s collection rate exceeded 99 percent.
But in this day and age, every dollar is important for local governments, so every effort is made to collect as much as possible, Briggs said. The county also handles tax collection for nine of the 11 municipalities — only Foxfire Village and Pinebluff handle their own collections.
Delinquent taxpayers are given every chance to avoid having their names published. Briggs said.
“We have to send them a letter putting them on notice we’re going to publish their name,” he said.
Each year, Briggs seeks approval of an order from the Board of Commissioners at their first meeting in February to advertise the tax liens.
“It is disappointing we have to do this,” Briggs said of publishing the names of delinquent taxpayers. “We want to work with people to get their taxes paid. We can do payment plans to avoid interest. We work them anyway we can.”
Briggs cautions that someone who is making payments on a tax bill will still be on the list if the taxes are not paid in full by Jan. 1 when they become delinquent. Interest does not start accruing until after the due date.
Briggs said the tax office waits until the very last minute to give someone a chance to pay up before publishing the list in the newspaper.
“We don’t want anyone on the list who should not be on there when it is published,” he said.
If the taxes are not paid by Jan. 1 of each year, the county is legally required to advertise the names.
“It is pretty straight forward,” he said.
The order states that if the tax remains unpaid, the lien will be foreclosed by the taxing unit and the property sold to satisfy the taxing unit’s claim for taxes. It says “enforced collection actions will not be undertaken against taxpayers involved in pending bankruptcies.”
A lien does not mean the county will seize someone’s property.
Briggs said that despite the repeated attempts to get property owners to pay their taxes through letters and notices, some are still surprised when their name shows up on the tax liens.
“We get people calling us saying they did not know they were delinquent,” he said.
The county has the ability to garnish wags and attach bank accounts to collect taxes. He said publishing the liens is just another step the county can take to collect taxes.
Currently, state law requires that local governments publish public notices in a local newspaper with general circulation in their area. But in the digital age, some lawmakers in the N.C. General Assembly are backing legislation to require that public and other legal notices be published on the town’s or county’s website.
The N.C. Press Association is supporting legislation filed April 5 in the House, HB 572 — as well as a partner bill in the Senate, SB 435 — requiring that notices still must be published in newspapers and on their websites, as well as on ncnotices.com, a free database of public notices published in newspapers throughout the state — a service of NCPA — which would exceed the reach of town and county websites.
The bill also provides discounts for notices that must be published more than once.
Similar legislation unanimously passed the House in 2015, but was not taken up by the Senate, according to NCPA.
Another bill filed late last month in the Senate, SB 343 and its House equivalent, HB 432, would require governments only to publish legal notices to their websites. Counties could also post legal notices on their websites for a fee, with any money collected to be used for local teacher salary supplements or other county needs.
Both sets of bills have been referred to each chamber’s respective Rules Committees.
Briggs said he could see the day when notices might only be published online with this next generation.
“I don’t think we are there yet,” he said.