LUMBERTON — Robeson County property owners who still have not paid their taxes have until Wednesday to get that done or risk seeing their names in The Robesonian.
Although the county did not publish the tax notices in The Robesonian this year, Commissioner David Edge is taking it upon himself to make that happen. Edge is using money from his discretionary fund, something he does sparingly, to have them advertised in the newspaper.
The notices will be published on July 1, which is a Sunday, but The Robesonian has to print the section early and will ask the Tax Office for the list of taxpayers who still owe on Thursday morning.
The county has historically advertised the notices in The Robesonian, but in recent years has favored the Robeson Journal, an apparent response to aggressive reporting from the county’s only daily paper concerning myriad issues, including their pay and benefits, and pursuit of Angel Exchange. The Robeson Journal published the notices in 2013, 2014 and 2015, before they were returned to The Robesonian for 2016 and 2017.
State law requires the tax notices be advertised in a newspaper of “general circulation.”
The Robeson Journal claims a paid circulation of fewer than 200 and total circulation of about 2,500, giving it a readership of 5,750 compared with The Robesonian’s 11,960. Additionally The Robeson Journal does not have an active website, while robesonian.com enjoys thousands of visitors each day.
Edge believes the threat of a wider broadcast will pay for itself with additional collections. Tax Administrator Cindy Lowry told The Robesonian about a month ago that the local collection rate was at about 92 percent. Most local governments in the state have rates in the upper-90s.
“In Robeson County we have a problem in tax collections,” said Edge, the only Republican on the board. “It has improved somewhat in the last few years under the leadership of Cindy Lowry but more has to be done. There is an attitude of laidback, it will work out, by most that are from here. That is fine if you are relaxing but not in business and certainly in collections. If you do not demand payment you will not get it and this county has not done a good job of it in the past. There was not a policy of foreclosure up until the past four years and it is not strict enough. It needs to be tightened up to make people pay their taxes. We are losing millions every year due to this very reason.”
Taxes became delinquent on Jan. 8, at which time a 2 percent penalty was assessed. An additional penalty of three-fourths of 1 percent is then assessed on the first day of each month the taxes remain unpaid.
There were 12,054 parcels identified as being late in the Robeson Journal on May 23, but The Robesonian has learned some were omitted, including relatives of two county commissioners. When the newspaper inquired how that happened, it was told that it has been a practice for years, but the mechanism for who made the order and who was complicit has not been made public.
After this newspaper published the information, Edge made a motion on June 11 at the commissioners meeting to re-advertise the listings in The Robesonian. Commissioner Berlester Campbell was the most vocal in opposition, asking County Manager Ricky Harris how much that would cost. Harris said about $13,000.
Edge was joined by Commissioners Tom Taylor and Lance Herndon in voting in favor, and Campbell and Commissioners Raymond Cummings, Roger Oxendine and Noah Woods were against. Commissioner Jerry Stephens missed the meeting.
Last year The Robesonian charged $7,196.40 to publish the information; the cost is based on number of parcels. The Robesonian this year was not given the opportunity to bid on tax notices.
The county paid The Robesonian Journal $6,947.10 this year.
It is unclear how much Edge will have to pay to have the notices published, but as of Monday the number of delinquent parcels had been reduced to 11,158. Edge has $22,253 in his discretionary fund, and any unspent money carries over to the next fiscal year, when another $30,000 is dumped into the fund. That will happen on July 1.
Denise Ward, publisher of The Robesonian, said she was pleased by Edge’s decision.
“This isn’t about The Robesonian,” she said. “This is about the county and its effort to aggressively collect taxes, and publishing the notices in a weekly newspaper of modest circulation with no website as opposed to a daily newspaper with a more robust circulation and an active website is not in the interest of achieving a higher collection rate and protecting those taxpayers who pay promptly.”
Editor Donnie Douglas can be reached at 910-416-5649 or a [email protected]