LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Tax Office has begun forcibly collecting some of the back property taxes owed by the owners of the Angel Exchange building at COMtech, which the county had pursued as a possible site for the Public Schools of Robeson County central office.
The building became a point of discussion in the county when Raymond Cummings, chairman of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, in January made a motion to purchase the building. The motion was approved 4 to 3 on a night that Commissioner David Edge was absent.
Cummings said he was concerned because he had heard there was a potential buyer for the 35,000-square-foot building, which was listed for $6 million, and that the system’s central office staff might find itself homeless. The school system has been renting part of the building for $9,000 a month since the central office on N.C. 72 was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew.
That sparked a public debate.
In February the commissioners voted again, this time 5 to 3, to continue negotiations to buy. But that was the last time the commissioners mentioned the building in public, and The Robesonian has been told the county has abandoned any plans to buy, doing so after County Attorney Patrick Pait advised the commissioners that they could not force the school system to locate there.
No public acknowledgement of that decision has been made.
The Board of Education, led by Chairman Peggy Wilkins Chavis, has said the building does not meet the system’s needs. The school board has not given a clear indication of where it will locate the office, but the system bought almost 50 acres of land near Pinecrest Country Club and off N.C. 711 that some board members favor.
According to Tax Administrator Cindy Lowry, her office on Feb. 23 attached the payment being made each month as rent to Angel Exchange for use of the building. Lowry said by state law she could not reveal the amount of the attachment.
According to the Tax Office, Angel Exchange owed more than $95,000 in delinquent taxes in late January, about $92,000 for the building and land, and about $3,000 for furnishings and office equipment. The tax liability had been reduced to $85,262.45 as of Wednesday.
Commissioner Edge has been critical of any plan to buy the building, arguing that if the county wants it, it should begin foreclosure proceedings.
The tax value of the building and land is just shy of $3.8 million, based on the 2010 evaluation, meaning about $30,000 a year was owed in taxes each year using the county’s tax rate of 77 cents for every $100 of property. That means more than three years of taxes were owed in January.
Angel Exchange in January also owed about $45,000 in delinquent fees to COMtech for support services it receives.