Commissioners cheat public out of vindictiveness

County officials believe they saved $1,620 recently by publishing the names of more than 12,000 people and businesses that were then delinquent paying property taxes in a little-known weekly newspaper in Robeson County, instead of the county’s major daily, The Robesonian, which has been publishing for parts of three centuries.

We would suggest that instead the county wasted $7,380 — of your money.

Odds are pretty high you didn’t see the tax listings — and if you want to now, you couldn’t find them with a troop of Boy Scouts and a GPS.

The newspaper that published them, according to its own publisher’s report, boasts a paid circulation of 141 people in Robeson County. That is not a typo. They do drop off a couple of thousand other papers at scattered locations, but there is little information on how many of them are actually read.

The Robesonian has a paid circulation that surpasses 10,000.

So let’s do the math.

The county, by using a little distributed newspaper, paid about $52 for every Robeson County home the tax listings were guaranteed to enter. If the county had published the listings inside this newspaper, which offered to publish them for $9,000 and publish them on at no additional expense, the cost to the county would have been about 85 cents per home.

If you think we are sore because of the lost revenue, you are a wee bit correct. But The Robesonian’s leadership team for revenue, in an effort to get the listings back after a two-year absence, offered such a good deal that the profit loss is near negligible.

The county did — we believe barely — meet the letter of a state law that requires that tax liens be published in a paid publication. But it is clear the county didn’t meet the intent of the law, which is to put that information in front of as much of the public as possible.

Moreover, and this should anger all taxpayers who meet their obligation on time, the county is turning the hammer it holds over the heads of delinquents into a wet noodle by giving them relative anonymity. If you were delinquent on your taxes, would you worry more about your name going into 141 homes or more than 10,000?

So why would the county make such a foolhardy choice, which includes punishing a local industry that employs more than 100 people in favor one that employs perhaps a couple? We also partner often with the county, such as we have in promoting the clean-and-green campaign and outreach that is going on toward this county’s veterans.

Several county commissioners interviewed for a page 1A story today pleaded ignorant and laid the blame at the feet of County Manager Ricky Harris. They lied. We can assure you the decision was not Harris’ — even if he is a good soldier and claims it.

Harris was told what to do by county commissioners who remain angry because this newspaper, beginning in the summer of 2012, had the temerity to report their pay and compensation as collectively being the highest in the state. It isn’t a coincidence that the tax listings were removed from this newspaper the following year, in 2013, for the first time in probably forever.

We have been told by more than one source that a decision had been made to return the listings to The Robesonian, but we again angered some commissioners by publishing and then commenting on the news the county would have to pay the Department of Housing and Urban Development $709,000 because of problems at the Robeson County Housing Authority, including that relatives of two commissioners illegally worked for the agency.

That was our job, and we did it, even though we knew we risked losing some revenue.

It seems fair to ask: Who exactly do the county commissioners believe they are serving? The public or themselves?