Published 12:00 am Friday, July 1, 2011

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — County officials say residents of Circle Drive and Matika Villa should pay their rent to the Rowan County tax office, in spite of a note their landlord posted Wednesday asking tenants of one neighborhood to pay him instead.
When Mona Childress got home at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, she noticed a paper taped to the front door of her mobile home. Others in the Circle Drive neighborhood on U.S. 29 had the same note.
“Taxes are (paid) in full,” according to a handwritten note at the bottom. “Please pay Eva July rent or bring to office. Thank you.”
It was signed by landlord Tim Smith. Childress said Eva, the woman named in the note, normally collects rent for Smith.
“I called the tax office and asked what was going on, and they said they hadn’t heard nothing about it,” Childress said. “I asked them, ‘What do we do?’ They said, ‘Pay us until we say otherwise.’ ”
Because Smith is delinquent on his property taxes, Rowan County began seizing rents paid by residents of Circle Drive in early June. On Tuesday, officials notified residents of Matika Villa on Airport Road that they, too, should be paying their rent to the county instead of to Smith.
L.R. Childress, Mona’s husband, said he plans to do just that, but Smith’s note has left some tenants worried and unsure of what to do.
“They’re afraid that if they don’t pay him rent, they’ll be getting evicted,” he said.
County officials have said that as long as the tenants pay the tax office, their landlord cannot evict them and their water will not be shut off.
The county attorney has told Smith that the rents still will be paid to Rowan County, said Deputy Tax Collector Janet Phillips.
“Until county gives an official release, which it has not done, tenants should continue to give their rent to the tax office,” Phillips said.
She said the decision to stop seizing rents will be up to Tax Administrator Jerry Rowland, who did not return calls from the Post on Thursday.
Smith, who owns Rubber One Recycling on Peach Orchard Road, also did not return calls made to his office and mobile phone numbers on Thursday.
At the top of the paper taped to Childress’ door was what appeared to be a photocopied receipt from the Rowan County tax office. It showed that less than $200 was paid on June 20, leaving more than $1,300 still due. The account number matches the county’s records for two Circle Drive parcels.
Just below that was a photocopied check for the due amount made out to “CASH — Cashier’s (check)” and dated June 28. Written on the memo line was “Rowan Co. Coll. / Circle Dr. M.H.”
Phillips said Smith did make a payment on the Circle Drive properties this week that will bring him up-to-date, but he is not current on his tax bill for the Matika Villa properties.
In early June, county officials told the Post he owed more than $180,000 in property taxes at that time.
According to records, Smith has paid his taxes every year on his personal property, a 6,294-square-foot house in Spencer. Smith and his wife bought it in 2006 for $750,000, and it now has a tax value of $646,120.
Smith said June 2 that he owed about $50,000 on his water bill. Jim Behmer, director of Salisbury-Rowan Utilities, said Thursday that Smith made a partial payment this week but still has not covered the bill.
For three months, the city warned residents that if Smith doesn’t pay his water bill, it could shut off the service in the two mobile home neighborhoods at the end of June. Residents then would have had between 30 and 45 days before eviction.
But the county agreed Monday to give Salisbury $35 of each rent payment on all 165 mobile homes, which will pay for the water to stay on. Another $8 from each Circle Drive payment will go toward recycling and garbage services.
Smith told the Post in early June that a former employee embezzled $150,000 from him last year, causing him to lose six months of income that caused serious problems with his businesses.
He said authorities told him there wasn’t enough evidence to support a criminal charge.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.