A month from today, The Pilot will print its annual listing of people who owe Moore County taxes.

The special section is usually 10 or 12 pages of name after name of people who owe back taxes. Some are just a year old but others are chronic.

Moore County is not alone; other counties frequently publish tax liens. Public notice, they’ve found, is an awfully good inducement to receive what they’re owed. Moore County, which usually spends about $8,000, routinely collects 80 percent. In past years, that’s about $800,000 a year for an $8,000 investment — which the late payers also pay.

This is a valuable service we perform for Moore County, and we are both happy with the returns. But for how much longer?

A few state lawmakers — yet again — would rather make political points or punish the media, and have introduced two bills that would take these publications out of local newspapers and publish them on little-seen pages online run by the counties. Their measures are usually done out of spite or retribution for perceived slights — and bereft of business sense.

Punitive Legislation

House Bill 35 and House Bill 51 include two regions. HB 35, proposed by Rep. Harry Warren of Rowan County, seeks to end newspaper public notices for Cabarrus, Catawba, Currituck, Davidson, Forsyth, Haywood, Jackson, Montgomery, Richmond, Rockingham, Rowan, Rutherford, Stanly, and Swain counties and their respective municipalities.

House Bill 51 is sponsored by State Reps. Howard Penny (Harnett), Ed Goodwin (Edenton), Keith Kidwell (Beaufort) and Howard Hunter (Ahoskie). It includes the counties of Beaufort, Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Craven, Gates, Harnett, Hertford, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Tyrrell, and Washington and their municipalities.

So, between the two bills, residents in a quarter of the state’s counties — 26 — could see information ranging from tax liens to notice of zoning meetings and other government business disappear from local newspapers. Instead, local governments could stick it most anywhere on their websites, with no good way for residents to find it.

The case is clear in North Carolina and across the country: Local newspapers are in dire straits financially. For some, government notices are an important revenue source. Were this a local business interest that one of these lawmakers supported — maybe a community bank or funeral home — they’d be screaming mad about legislation that penalizes them financially.

No one thinks of a local newspaper as a business until it’s gone, and suddenly no one knows what’s going on in town.

More Transparency, Not Less

Moore County is not part of this legislation. While we are thankful for that, we fight for our brethren and all of North Carolina’s residents who stand potentially to lose easy access to critical public information.

According to the North Carolina Press Association, 6.6 million N.C. adults turn to local newspapers to read public notices about tax increases, zoning changes, minutes of local government meetings, etc.

Almost three quarters of those surveyed believe state and local governments should be required to publish public notices in newspapers on a regular basis as a service to the community.

“Public notices aren’t government subsidies,” said Phil Lucey, executive director of the N.C. Press Association. “We’re providing a service and we’re paid for that service. Especially now, it’s a time for more transparency, not less.

“This is about striking back at newspapers for doing their job of covering the community,” Lucey said. “Newspapers are small businesses as well. And our business is to inform the public.”

We have successfully fought against such endeavors in the past; such legislation blooms every session like a noxious weed. The lawmakers say it’s about convenience for the governments and saving money.

Bull. It makes financial sense, or maybe an 80,000 percent return — Moore County’s typical net return on the tax liens publication — isn’t worth it.

But the publishing of public information is also important to open and good government. Let our lawmakers know publication of public information is important — before it’s too late.

(9) comments

Patricia Bryan

I don't know who takes the time to read all those listings of past due taxes, but I doubt that the majority of them are a result of loss of employment due to the pandemic. I also dislike the sales tax on newspapers, adding one more expense to a struggling but I feel important industry. I still subscribe to a daily newspaper, though it is awful, but it finally found us a good paper carrier and I'm not about to stop receiving it and have her job gone. At one time in our lives we subscribed to three daily newspapers. Shows how old we are, doesn't it? I still prefer to hold the paper in my hand and not read it on a screen, so I hope The Pilot and the other one outlast me.

Lowell Simon

The Pilot editorial board continues to complain about the policies of the politicians they endorse.

Stephen Woodward

This would be hilarious if it was not dripping with hypocrisy. Local, state and federal governments count on their ability to spend taxpayer dollars without accountability, and further count on the corrupt media to ignore it or prop it up as investing in "social justice", "clean energy" and "diversity". No accountability as to where the money comes from or where it's going. But if Joe Smith lost his job because of a virus unleashed by China and can't pay his taxes. he deserves to be exposed in the pages of the local "noose" paper. If it were not for double standards, the media would have none at all.

Kent Misegades

Two thoughts on this. First, if what is essential public shaming works, why limit it to property taxes? How about publishing lists of everyone receiving food stamps, free school meals and other forms of welfare? As with delinquent property taxes, these people are freeloading. Second, it does not seem fair that the public has only one choice when forced by the county to place a legal notice in The Pilot. Why not just post them on the Clerk of Court’s web site for free and save taxpayer’s money? Why does only one business reap all the benefit of this government requirement? That seems un-American to me. I’ve never run a business with customers compelled by government to buy my product.

Barbara Misiaszek

Only one choice, start a paper and compete Kent. The Pilot provides a valuable service, certainly worth the cost. What do you think, we should return to the place where we have debtors's prisons?

John Misiaszek

Cheryl Christy-Bowman

Most of those who receive SNAP benefits in MoCo are children. ALL who receive free school meals are children. You want to shame them in public...towards what end? People who owe back taxes may be moved to correct their situation because of public shaming. Children though? How would you suggest they correct their situation? Drop out of second grade and get a job at Burger King?

Mark Hayes

If Democrat's succeed in their quest for the $15.00 per hour wage, Burger King would not be such a bad choice for a second grade drop out.

Stephen Woodward

Sadly, they have time on their hands to hold a job given the Governor's refusal to let them be children, let them learn in the classroom and let them see their friends. SNAP benefits will not reverse the psychological damage our hysteria has imposed on kids.

Tamara Vigne

Way to show your ‘Christian’ values.

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