Two locally elected officials were probably embarrassed this week when news broke that they were late paying their property taxes to the city of Lumberton. And that is the point when local governments publish the list of people who are delinquent in paying their taxes — that the threat of public humiliation will inspire them to pay on time.
Lumberton’s list of late taxpayers was published in Sunday’s The Robesonian, and we can assure you that plenty of readers looked closely at that list, first to make sure they weren’t on it, and then to see who was.
State Rep. Charles Graham said his delinquency was an oversight — and mistakes do happen. Graham, shortly after being contacted by a reporter for this newspaper, told us that he had paid the city in full.
The case of city Councilman John “Big Wayne” Robinson is perplexing. Robinson, who represents Precinct 2, is as much as six years behind in paying some property taxes, but the total amount he owes isn’t substantial — a fraction of what Robinson is paid each year, $7,403.14, as a councilman.
Robinson wouldn’t speak to a reporter so we don’t know why he hasn’t paid. The city has yet to withhold his salary in order to settle the debt, which we believe should happen today.
There is the larger point here. It’s one thing when John Q. Public doesn’t pay his property taxes on time, but it’s much more egregious when the people who actually establish the property tax rate and decide how tax dollars are spent don’t pay their share.
Pretty soon the Robeson County government will be publishing its list of delinquent taxpayers, but we doubt it will be published in The Robesonian. The county for years routinely published the tax list in this newspaper, but didn’t in 2013, instead deciding to publish it in another county newspaper with a fraction of our circulation and no website capability. The county has also taken from this newspaper legal advertisements that it is required by law to publish because the information has value to the public.
The county says these decisions were done to save money, but we — and you — know it was retaliation for this newspaper telling truth about how the commissioners have piled up their pay and benefits while behind closed doors.
If delinquent taxpayers are motivated to pay up by the threat of public disclosure, it follows that the more people who see the tax list, the greater the number of people who will pay up. County officials, in a transparent effort to punish us for telling the truth, are likely to punish themselves with their decision to deny this county’s residents easy access to see who hasn’t paid their taxes.