LUMBERTON — Procrastination, forgetfulness and holiday closures were among the reasons given by many last-minute taxpayers this week as they were trying to meet a deadline today. Another deadline looms on Monday.
“Yeah, we waited until the last minute but when we tried to do it online, the site wouldn’t work for us,” said Linda Jones, who was in line on Monday with her husband Ertle Jones at the Robeson County Tax Office inside the county courthouse. “And they were closed during the holidays, so that didn’t help.”
Ertle Jones, who was in line with his wife to provide what he called “moral support,” didn’t mind the nearly 30-minute wait in line.
“It is moving pretty quickly, actually,” he said. “They have three clerks working, which is pretty unusual.”
The law requires that property taxes by paid before Jan. 1 in order to be deducted from 2013 personal income taxes. If not paid by that date, taxpayers must pay it by Jan. 6, which is Monday, to avoid a 2 percent penalty, and a .75 percent penalty for each additional month afterward. Those who do not pay on time or reach a payment plan with the county risk having their wages garnished or even foreclosure.
Robeson County’s property tax rate remains among the top 20 percent of tax rates in the state at 77 cents for every $100 of property value. What has changed this year is the addition of the state’s new Tag & Tax System, a law passed by the General Assembly to transfer responsibility for motor vehicle tax collection from the county to the Division of Motor Vehicles.
The law will allow vehicle owners to make one payment for both registration renewal and vehicle property tax.
“We’re still phasing it in. We still have folks who are bringing in their registration along with their tax bill, thinking we can take their money,” said Cindy Lowery, county tax administrator. “We’d love to, but we can’t, so we have to send them down to the DMV. But I think it is going to be a smooth process once we’ve worked the kinks out we will be working hand-in-hand with DMV, probably for another year.”
Lowery says that every vehicle property payment will be going through the DMV after Sept. 1 and that she expects to see a noticeable growth in annual vehicle tax collections as a result. Last year the county had hoped to exceed the 2011 collection rate of 92 percent, which even then was far behind the state rate of 97 percent. However, Lowery said that due in large part to the difficulty of collecting vehicle property taxes the county had actually fallen behind last year, only managing to collect 90.01 percent for 2012.
“[Motor vehicles collections] has always been our problem, that has always brought us down,” Lowery said. “So we are hoping that we will see an increase with this new Tag & Tax law.”
As of the beginning of December, the county had managed to collect a little more than $25 million, putting it above the $24 million collected at around the same time in 2011.
As with previous years, the county is allowing assistance for some residents who qualify for relief programs.
— Elderly or Disabled Exclusion: To qualify, the property owner must be a North Carolina resident, 65 years of age or older, permanently disabled and cannot have a gross income for the previous year that exceeds $28,100.
— Homestead Circuit Breaker: To qualify a property owner must be 65 years or older, totally and permanently disabled, have owned and occupied the property as a legal resident for five years or more, be a North Carolina resident, and have an income that does not exceed $40,650.
— Disabled Veteran Exclusion: This program excludes up to the first $45,000 of the appraised value of the permanent residence of an honorably discharged veteran who has a total and permanent disability that is connected to service. There is no age or income limitation. This benefit is also available to the unmarried surviving spouse of an honorably discharged veteran.
“We try to make people aware of the exemptions, as many people aren’t even aware they qualify,” Lowery said. “Once they [qualify], basically, they are good to go … . I had an old lady call me the other day, 92 years old, and she didn’t know she could be receiving help. She could have been receiving this help for years.”