Carroll takes closer look at delinquent taxes
by Allen Worrell
Believing that Carroll County is owed more than $10 million in delinquent taxes, the Carroll County Board of Supervisors wants to look at better ways to collect back taxes.
During the board’s Jan. 14 meeting, supervisors unanimously approved a motion to put the subject of delinquent taxes on its February agenda to get a list of delinquent taxes and to see how much the county is owed. The motion also called for Treasurer Bonita Williams to attend the meeting.
Supervisor Sam Dickson began the discussion by expressing frustration over the board not receiving a complete list of delinquent taxes, a topic it has visited frequently in recent years. County Attorney Jim Cornwell noted that some properties were turned over, but not all of them.
“Well, did we not ask for a complete list? Have we done everything the state said we have to do to get this list? What other steps are there to do this? And the reason I am asking that, I have a paper here, The Declaration, for every delinquent tax list in Grayson County,” Dickson said. “They evidently can get a list, why is it we can’t get a list? Are we doing something wrong or what?”
Cornwell explained there is a statutory requirement that the Treasurer provide a list by the end of the fiscal year at the request of the board. The board requested a list at the end of the last fiscal year, but it has not been given, Cornwell said. So if it doesn’t happen, there is nothing the board can do, Dickson asked?
“If you want to proceed on some issue you could, but I guess what I am saying to you is bring action to Circuit Court or you could talk to the Treasurer,” Cornwell said.
Dickson said he would suggest the board ask for the list again. He couldn’t see where the problem was that the board couldn’t get the list.
“It is public information,” Dickson said. “If somebody went down there and asked for it and FOIA’d it, couldn’t they get one?”
Supervisor Josh Hendrick wanted to make it clear that nobody on the board of supervisors wants to take anybody’s land. Cornwell has the ability to negotiate payments with folks who are late paying taxes.
“It is not a ‘You’re late, we are going to take your property.’ It is not that all of the personal touch is taken out of this process,” Hendrick said. “The goal is to basically get the owed money, but it is not to take everybody’s land while they are doing it.”
Dickson said he thought it was the board’s responsibility to make sure if one person is paying their taxes, that the next person is paying taxes also.
“It is our responsibility to see it is collected once you impose a tax rate,” Dickson said. “I would like to see the number. If it is not a large number, maybe we just forget it. If it is a large number, maybe we look at some ways of collecting that.”
Hendrick also wanted to make it clear that the legal fee for Cornwell’s help in collecting taxes is included in the delinquent tax payment. The county doesn’t pay any extra to have Cornwell perform the service, he said.
Cornwell said the statute allows a “tack-on” of 20 percent, so there is no cost to the county for the service. His company collects taxes for several jurisdictions in Virginia. Recently, he presented a check of $2 million of delinquent taxes he collected for Pittsylvania County, as well as a check of $1 million to the City of Petersburg.
“We work out payment plans. To be honest with you, we would rather work out payment plans and get payments than we would to sell the property, especially in today’s market. It’s more for us, but it also keeps people in their houses,” Cornwell said. “It’s very, very, very rare that we ever sell a piece of property. I can’t remember more than two or three in the past five years.”
Hendrick asked Cornwell if he knew the total of delinquent taxes owed to Carroll County. Cornwell said he didn’t know it offhand, which led Hendrick to ask if it was more than $10 million.
“I’m sure it is,” Cornwell responded.
Supervisor Bob Martin said his 90-year-old mother doesn’t “have squat,” but she religiously pays her taxes.
“So if David is not paying his, it bothers me too, Sam,” Martin said.
Cornwell explained there’s a process that has to be followed to collect delinquent taxes. For starters, taxes have to be delinquent by two years or more to be turned over to him. A notice is then sent out giving taxpayers 30 days to work something out, he said. After that, it’s advertised in the newspaper for another 30 days. If taxes still aren’t paid, title examinations are performed for liens and deeds of trust to make sure the people listed on the tax rolls actually own the property.
“After we run through the whole process it takes us a good four to six months before we can bring lawsuit to sell the property. During that time the taxpayer has ample opportunity to work out payments,” Cornwell said. “We try to work payment plans. We try to get it paid off in six months, but there are exceptions to every rule. We don’t particularly want to sell the property. We would much rather take payments.”
Dickson said every year around tax time he gets the same call from the same lady frustrated that her neighbor doesn’t pay any tax on a property. The neighbor has never paid tax on the property because it belonged to their grandmother, who has passed away.
“They have taken the land over, it sits in her name and the tax just keeps piling up. And of course nobody pays it because grandma is gone,” Dickson said. “I would just ask this be put on the agenda to find out the amount out for delinquent tax, and if we could get a list and ask the treasurer to attend the meeting. If it needs to be a motion, I will make it as a motion.”
Supervisor Tom Littrell seconded the motion. He’s been concerned about the issue for some time, and has spoken to two treasurers of other counties to see what they do.
“In our case it is due on December 5 and if not paid on the fifth there is a 10 percent penalty added on at that point. These other counties have a specific date period where they send out a letter, a first notice that the taxes are delinquent,” Littrell said. “After a month or two passes, they send a second letter, and then eventually I think in both cases after around August 1 the names of these delinquent taxpayers are published in the newspaper. That is certainly a way to get some interest.”
Cornwell said his office finds that localities must stay on top of delinquent taxes to help both the locality and the taxpayer. If a locality doesn’t bang on doors, get judgments or garnish salaries, it’s easy for taxpayers to get behind.
“By the time we get four, five, six years behind, then the people can’t afford it,” Cornwell said. “That is difficult for them. Effective collection process I think would not only assist the county in receiving the funds, but also make sure people know they have to come to the table and work out something when they are able to do that instead of getting five, six or seven years behind.”
Dickson’s motion to put the delinquent tax issue on the February agenda passed unanimously.
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