County should pay for awarding most-favored status

There are penalties for violating state statues for a reason: A hammer hovers to ensure that people abide, and if they don’t, there is a penance to pay. It is a tenet of a civilized society.

But our search so far has failed to uncover the remedy for Robeson County’s decision to denote a most-favored status on some taxpayers — we know of course about two relatives of commissioners, but suspect there are more stashed amid thousands of names — so the local government is doing what it always does when caught red-handed, and that is to ride it out until the folks forget. It is a strategy that has often prevailed.

Today’s news that the listings will be published in The Robesonian, thanks to Commissioner David Edge and that discretionary fund that we have temporarily suspended our disdain for, will enlist hundreds and perhaps thousands of allies in our search for more shenanigans. Of course those who are delinquent and don’t want to be exposed have about a week to do their duty and pay their taxes.

Chris McLaughlin, a professor at the UNC School of Government who is an expert on such things, says he has never heard of a county that purposely omitted the names of delinquent taxpayers, but in his defense, he is behind on the corruption — there, we said it — that is deeply sewn into this county’s cloth. We know there are corrupt politicians everywhere, but in Robeson County a multiplier is needed. It is worse, way worse, a subjective standard, so you can assign your own grade.

This newspaper has trouble escaping a day without a phone call, Facebook message, letter or email alerting us to the dirty dish du jour.

But back to McLaughlin, who referred us to the N.C. Department of Revenue, where we learned that while it is state law that the tax notices be published, legislators did not provide a remedy when some are selectively omitted, and the statute is effectively silent on that scenario. Maybe it’s time to put some teeth into the law.

This we know: The county government, by not only omitting those with most-favored status but also saying essentially, we did it, what are you going to do about it, has de facto created a second class of taxpayer. Over here are most of us, property owners who are expected to pay our taxes and if we don’t, pay a price, perhaps late fees, wage garnishment, bank attachment, foreclosure or some crippling combo. Over there is the preferred class, those who can skate on their responsibility and apparently do so without risk of penalty.

When you afford one group special rights, you violate the rights of others.

If that sounds like courthouse-cooler talk, it’s purposeful. As McLaughlin noted, the county is in a vulnerable position for a citizens group to file a lawsuit, not only for the county’s action, but for its willingness to not even deny the deed, and then add that this is how things have always been done. That isn’t a permission slip to continue behavior that is outside the law, but actually a clarion call to correct it.

The county should pay a price for its behavior, if not by statue then with a swift kick from Lady Justice following a lawsuit. Should that happen, the county is likely to incur legal fees, and as is always the case, the bill will be handed to the taxpayers.

At least those who pay.