County tax collection rate similar to last yearís

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 18, 2011

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY ó Rowan County is collecting taxes at about the same rate as it did last year, after a 1 percent decrease from the year before.
County tax officials say this shows the pressure of the economic downturn is starting to lift, but local property owners are still reeling from its impact.
ěWe donít see the trend getting worse, but we also havenít seen it getting better,î said County Tax Administrator Jerry Rowland.
The property tax collection rate was 95.46 percent as of May 31, compared to 95.34 percent one year ago.
Tonya Parnell, assistant tax collector, said the county finished last fiscal year with 95.8 percent collected and expects to get close to that number through June 30 of this year.
Prior to the 2008 recession, Rowan County would collect between 97 percent and 98 percent of the taxes it levied, Parnell said.
ěFolks have used the money they would normally pay taxes with to catch up on their mortgages or other personal bills,î she said.
Through the end of last month, $66.69 million in 2010 taxes had been collected, leaving about $3.17 million owed by county taxpayers from a total $69.86 million levy.
To bring more of that money into the countyís coffers, the tax office takes it from delinquent taxpayersí paychecks, reserves funds in their bank accounts or collects rent money in place of their landlords.
ěGarnishment of wages has always been our top thing, but when no one is working, weíve had to use other methods,î Parnell said.
Property owners who owe taxes can avoid these measures by agreeing to make regular payments on their bills. Parnell said the tax office is managing more formal and informal payment plans this year than it has in any other.
ěMost folks come in and talk with us, and thatís what we encourage,î Parnell said. ěFor the most part, people are willing to pay.î
Rowland agreed that nearly all property owners who can afford to pay taxes are doing so.
ěCertain industries have been affected a lot more, like building and banking,î Rowland said.
Land developers are taxed year after year on empty lots, because the pace of new construction has slowed to a crawl. Even as the housing market starts to revive, some businesses now have to pay off multiple yearsí worth of tax debt.
In fact, all top 10 delinquent taxpayers for the past year are businesses, according to a list provided by the county tax office.
Topping the list is Plainview Shopping Center, which owes about $55,000 in 2010 property taxes. American Land Corp. is second with nearly $40,000 owed.
Crescent Golf Club LLC and Weatherstone Land Group also owe more than $30,000 each. Hillcrest Construction, which was the top single delinquent account for 2009, owes about $23,000 on its 2010 tax bill.
Rowland said the county is working with the owners of these businesses along with other taxpayers, but many simply canít pay any more than they already are.
ěThere are people trying hard to hold on,î he said. ěIf (the economy) doesnít get better, we may lose a little bit, or they may manage to hang in a little bit longer.î
Rowland, who plans to retire from the county by the end of this year, said he is proud of the officeís efforts to collect taxes and work compassionately with taxpayers who fall behind.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.