While the Robeson County Board of Commissioners has worked hard to earn its reputation of doing its dirty work in the back room, we must now acknowledge that they will also hide their shenanigans in plain view.
Still, this newspaper for way too long failed to see the wart on the nose. For that dereliction of duty, we apologize.
But last week a former employee of the Tax Office put things into sharp focus, pointing out that the county on May 23 had published a list of delinquent taxpayers in the hard-to-find Robeson Journal that was not, shall we say, complete. This person contacted us only because we had published a story about the county’s decision to punish this newspaper — and reward a key supporter of Commissioner Raymond Cummings’ plan to become tribal chairman — by taking the tax notices out of The Robesonian and putting them in the obscure Robeson Journal.
So just as the commissioners’ dalliance with Angel Exchange likely cost a perjurer the sheriff’s race, their decision to punish this newspaper has exposed the practice of protecting selected ones, including two immediate relatives of commissioners, from the shame of having their names listed for not paying the taxes on time and — the evidence suggests — ever paying those taxes at all.
After a determined search, we were able to find a Robeson Journal, actually two of them, and there are thousands of delinquent taxpayers listed who own more than 12,000 parcels. So we don’t have any idea if there are a handful of omissions or many, many more. We do know that those whose names were listed represent millions of dollars of uncollected taxes that we presume one of the poorest counties in the state could put to use, and we know that the Public Schools of Robeson County would love to have.
But our commissioners don’t push hard to collect taxes — and some are slow to pay them — which explains a collection rate that, while improving, ranks us among the lowest in the state. The county has not been aggressive in garnishing wages, attaching bank accounts, forecloseing on properties such as Angel Exchange — and, as we have learned, publishing tax notices that are complete and widely seen.
When we began asking questions about the omissions, we were a bit surprised because there was no real denial. Instead, we were told more than once that omitting the names of those with a most-favored status was a tradition that dated back at least a couple of decades, and just like that past county managers, tax administrators and commissioners have been smeared.
So there are questions, and an obvious one would be: Does the county have plans to publish the list again, this time with all the names listed? Understand, this is a legal step, and without it the county has no standing to begin foreclosure procedures on omitted properties.
We are also curious to know who will be scapegoated for this omission? We worry that county employees who were just doing as they were told will soon be out of work. If that happens, then those employees are invited to share their story with this newspaper.
We are beyond the point of surprise. Several of the commissioners see that office as a way to enrich themselves, family and friends. Remember when they provided free health insurance for their families while employees paid $300 and change a month? That ended soon after we exposed it.
We keep waiting for our county commissioners to do the right thing. But we have been waiting for a very long time. They have another chance on Monday.
Our bet is against it.