LUMBERTON — The tens of thousands of readers who depend on The Robesonian for their news will not be able to satisfy their need to be a bit nosy by viewing the county’s delinquent tax notices in either the newspaper’s print edition or at robesonian.com.
For the third time in five years, the county government has decided not to publish the tax notices in the newspaper, instead putting them in the Robeson Journal on May 23. State law requires them to be published in a newspaper with a paid circulation and “general distribution.”
The Robeson Journal claims paid subscribers of 100 to 200 and a readership of about 5,750. Its website appears to have not been updated since 2015.
The Robesonian has a readership of about 11,960 in print. Its website enjoys as many as 183,363 users and more than 1 million unique page views a month.
County Manager Ricky Harris said the decision to use the Robeson Journal was his, and that The Robesonian got it last year and the county was “moving it around.”
The county paid the newspaper $6,947.10 to publish information on 12,429 delinquent parcels. According to Tax Administrator Cindy Lowry, the county has collected just more than 92 percent of its taxes for personal and real property.
Denise Ward, the publisher of The Robesonian, expressed disappointment that the newspaper was not allowed to bid on the project as it has done the past two years. Harris said state law does not require that. Ward pointed out that in recent years The Robesonian has lowered the price it charges the county while putting the notices on its website at no additional charge.
“It seems to me that the intent of the state law is to hold a hammer over the head of delinquent taxpayers by exposing them to potential embarrassment and that Robeson County, by not putting the notices in the most widely circulated newspaper that also has an active website, is not taking full advantage of that threat,” Ward said. “That in effect punishes the people who do pay their taxes on time.”
Editor Donnie Douglas believes that the move is retalitory, and sparked by aggressive reporting from the newspaper as well as critical editorials. The first time the tax notices were removed from the newspaper was in 2014, and followed reporting and critical editorials concerning the commissioners’ pay and benefits, which are the best in the state.
More recently the newspaper has been aggressive in its coverage of an aborted attempt by some commissioners to buy the Native Angel building for use as a central office for the Public Schools of Robeson County, as well as how the county funds the local school system, which is the second lowest per-pupil rate in the state.
“I think it is pretty clear to people what is going on here,” Douglas said. “We believe this is an attempt to hurt us, but we will continue to aggressively report on issues concerning the county. We have been heartened by the outpouring of support from people in the community who appreciate our willingness to tell it like it is.”