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With cash tight, Halifax County supes hone in on back taxes
SoVaNow.com / March 21, 2013Prodded to provide agencies with more money and criticized for proposing to raise license fees, county supervisors have turned their attention to unpaid taxes and efforts to collect the money.
Supervisors on Monday night pressed County Treasurer Linda Foster and Commissioner of Revenue Brenda Foster to explain the sources of county funding and what both offices are doing to bring in the full amount of revenue.
Approximately $4.1 million in unpaid property taxes is owed to Halifax County going back 20 years, the statutory limit for real estate tax collections, Foster told supervisors. Over the past year, approximately $1.83 million in taxes due went unpaid.
Those numbers suggest Halifax County lags behind neighboring counties with better rates of success collecting back taxes.
In 2012 Halifax County billed out about $16 million in real estate taxes and $8,254,000 in personal property taxes. With $1.83 million remaining unpaid, the county’s collection rate was just above 92 percent.
By contrast, Mecklenburg County last year was able to collect nearly 97 percent of personal property tax bills, and 98 percent of real estate taxes, said the county’s treasurer, Sandra Langford.
In Pittsylvania County, Treasurer Teresa Easley did not have collection rates immediately at hand, but she estimated her office has taken in about 98 percent of property taxes owed during the year.
The sum total of delinquent property taxes in Mecklenburg stands at $1.1 million, about one-fourth the level of Halifax County.
Delinquent real estate taxes stay on the books for 20 years; personal property taxes are marked as delinquent for up to five years before they are written off, as required by statute.
Foster noted that collections of personal property taxes tend to run behind real estate tax payments, despite the county’s reliance on DMV to enforce compliance. (DMV will not issue vehicle registrations and drivers licenses until customers are current on their decal and personal property tax payments.)
With real estate taxes, payment is enforced through forced sales of delinquent tax properties, and liens being placed on property owners’ wages, said Foster.
Foster reported to supervisors Monday that Halifax County has scheduled an attorney’s sale of parcels on which back taxes are owed. The auction will be conducted April 6 by a special commissioner.
The sale originally was to have included 66 parcels, Foster said, but many of the properties have been taken off the list as their owners have come forward to pay their tax bills. The commissioner of revenue has received payments of $136,000 on several of the tracts and is expecting another $40,000 in payments later this week.
ED#1 Supervisor J. T. Davis asked Foster why more auctions have not been scheduled to try to reduce the delinquent list. Foster replied that she and County Administrator Jim Halasz have met with a collection attorney and he is willing to carry out more sales.
In contrast to Halifax, which held one sale last year, Pittsylvania held three, said Easley, the Pittsylvania treasurer. She said the county will force the sales of properties with two years of unpaid back taxes. Pittsylvania also is aggressive about obtaining property liens “even if we can’t get the money” immediately, Easley said.
“When they [property owners] try to get rid of property, we’re on the list,” she said. “And that has worked for us.”
In addition, both Mecklenburg and Pittsylvania participate in a program by the Virginia Department of Taxation to garnish tax refunds going to individuals who fall behind on local tax payments.
Halifax does not participate in the same program, said Foster, although she said the county may re-evaluate that policy. “We found we were collecting more money from the DMV stops than from the debt set-off [garnishment program],” she said.
During Monday night’s Board of Suzpervisors meeting, Davis suggested that Foster and Halasz should meet with the Mecklenburg County administrator to discuss how that county has been able to keep tax delinquencies in check.
Doug Bowman, chairman of the supervisors’ finance committee, suggested that the county should regularly schedule at least two delinquent property sales a year until the amount of back taxes is reduced.
Also, ED#3 Supervisor William Fitzgerald asked why the county’s attorney keeps delinquent tax payments in an escrow fund when the Board needs the revenue for county operations. “Why don’t they just take their percentage and send us the rest of the money?” Fitzgerald asked.
Foster replied she would ask about that.
Supervisors also questioned Commissioner of the Revenue Brenda Powell about the business license fee increase on coin operators. Powell explained that the county does not currently collect license fees on coin operated machines, except those intended for amusement. Machines that stock candy and snacks are not subject to the license fees. The supervisors are proposing to raise the machine license fees to $100, from the current $25.
CommentsIf you keep raising taxes, how are people going to pay them. Much land is for sale in the county now. More cuts need to be made. Cut the IDA, Prizery etc. They are all drains on the county.
- By allpollitical2 on 03 / 21 / 13
CommentsIn reality having delinquent taxes is not a bad thing for the county at all. The county makes over $300,000 a year on fees and interest on the delinquencies. This is money that would all be lost if everyone paid on time. With a first lien on the properties, the county is always going to get their money.
- By Joe on 03 / 21 / 13
CommentsSee in the Gv that they are going to raise taxes!
- By allpolitical2 on 03 / 22 / 13
CommentsThis county should live within its means. Next year is the last year of tobacco payments to the property owners and tobacco farmers and around $10 million dollars will stop overnight. Then what are we going to do. Raise taxes accordingly. The BOS needs to cut all of the nonessential services EX: The visitors center, Prizery etc. and try to maintain these expensive school buildings we built. If the IDA didn't produce, cut it out too. Doesn't look like any new businesses are coming here anyway. God help us all.
- By Tax & Spend on 03 / 24 / 13
CommentsJobless rate rises just shy of 10 percent
03/25/13 - 7:39 am Halifax
Sharp jump in unemployment felt across Southside Virginia
- By Wow on 03 / 25 / 13
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