LUMBERTON — About a dozen people were in line early Friday morning to pay their property taxes before Monday’s deadline to do so in order to use them as a tax deduction next year.
Cindy Lowry, the county’s tax administrator, said that collections are on a pace to meet or exceed the 2011 year-end collection rate of 92 percent. The county’s tax collection rate in recent years has been trending upward, but still lags behind the state rate of about 97 percent.
According to Lowry, through November, 57.16 percent of the ad valorem taxes for the county had been collected, which was easily ahead of the pace in 2011, 52 percent through November. That amounted to about $24 million in revenue for the county. The total amount of taxes to be levied by the county is about $46 million.
Although the pace is well ahead of last year’s, Lowry took a cautious approach on predicting a rate in excess of 92 percent, saying she “didn’t want to count her chickens … before they hatched.”
Taxes must be paid before Jan. 1 in order to deduct them from 2012 personal income taxes. The Tax Office will be closed on New Year’s Day.
Taxes must be paid before Jan. 7 to avoid a penalty; usually the deadline is Jan. 6, but that date is a Sunday in 2013.
The penalty for paying after Jan. 7 is 2 percent for the first month and .75 percent for each additional month afterward. Those who do not pay on time or reach a payment plan with the county risk having their wage garnished. The last resort, according to Lowry, is foreclosure on the home.
“We don’t want people’s homes,” Lowry said. “We want people to pay their taxes and be good citizens. And if there is a problem with a tax bill, or people need help, January is the golden month to ask.”
Lowry said that January is when residents are supposed to list their unlicensed vehicles, farm equipment, businesses and mobile homes with the Tax Office. They should also bring any tax concerns or special considerations to the Tax Office’s attention.
“If people have a problem paying their taxes, we have a variety of solutions for them,” Lowry said. “We can establish a payment plan and stretch it out so we don’t have to contact their employer. We have a lot of people who take advantage of that but we can’t help them if they don’t ask.”
Robeson County’s current tax rate is 77 cents for every $100 of property value, ranking it among among the top 20 percent of tax rates in the state. Lowry said the bad economy makes it difficult for some property owners.
“The biggest thing I’m hearing when they walk in the door is that they just lost their job or they only have a certain amount of money,” Lowry said. “They’re doing the best they can and we try to work with each and every one of them.”
There are relief programs available to people who qualify:
— Elderly or Disabled Exclusion: Under this program, the property owner must be at least 65 years of age or permanently disabled. The property owner also cannot have a gross income for the previous year that exceeds $28,100, and must be a North Carolina resident.
— Homestead Circuit Breaker: Under this program a property owner must be 65 years of age or totally and permanently disabled; owned and occupied the property as a legal residence for five years; 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 service connected. There is no age or income limitation. This benefit is also available to the unmarried surviving spouse of an honorably discharged veteran.
Macy Keyworth, a “senior citizen” from Rowland, did not know she might qualify for help.
“One hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing,” Keyworth said. “I don’t know where to go or who to ask about information like that. And when you do ask a question, nobody knows the answers.”
Keyworth, who paid with her credit cards, was upset with the $20 fee associated with paying each bill with plastic.
“With the high tax rates that Robeson County has, they should not charge a fee to pay your taxes,” Keyworth said. “Robeson County is poor. A lot of people can’t afford to pay their taxes, let alone these fees. Something has to change.”