Newspaper meets its obligation, but not commissioners

A not-so-funny thing happened on this newspaper’s long and unnecessarily winding road to deliver to our readers the names of people and businesses that remain delinquent paying their property taxes for 2014.

The name of the editor of this newspaper, Donnie Douglas, appeared on the list. Douglas’ excuses don’t really matter, and he can produce evidence that his taxes were paid the next day, which is now yesterday, but there is a cogent point here: Douglas didn’t realize he owed the taxes until he saw the list. He had moved in the last three years and the county had an old address, which is where — presumably — the notices that he was delinquent on his taxes were mailed.

Douglas’ name is among almost 11,000 that can be found at today under the heading of news and then by clicking on special sections in the drop-down menu. We didn’t delete his name even though his taxes were paid because others who paid their taxes after the list was provided to us on Tuesday could not be extended that same courtesy.

The Robesonian decided to publish the delinquent tax listings on our website after the county elected for the third straight year not to publish them in our print edition, instead meeting the letter of the law — but not its spirit — by publishing them in an obscure weekly with a fraction of this newspaper’s circulation. The weekly has not placed the listings on its website.

The county commissioners have said County Manager Ricky Harris made this decision, opting for a savings to the county of $1,620 in a budget of about $150 million. But the decision was the commissioners’ — well not all of them, but a couple or three — and no person who has been paying any attention would believe otherwise.

They remain mad at us because we told readers that they are the best paid and benefited commissioners in North Carolina, a sad fact made worse because they govern in one of the poorest counties in the country. It is indefensible, which is why no commissioner ever tries to defend it although we will certainly have asked that question before, and will again of commissioners who seek re-election in the May 2016 primary.

The Robesonian made the decision to publish the tax listings on our website, which enjoys about 35,000 page views a day, because we believe the public has a right to know who hasn’t paid taxes in a timely manner. But the baffling part is why the county would contort itself to keep that information from being easily seen. Remember, when the county doesn’t go as hard as it can after people who don’t pay their taxes, the burden is shifted to those taxpayers who do.

The threat of widespread publication is an available hammer that the county hangs over tax delinquents, but by using a publication no one can find the county mitigates that threat. Also, as evidenced by Douglas’ discovery, there are actually people and businesses that owe property taxes and might not know it, finding out only when the listings are published.

We have recognized an obligation to the public by providing the names of delinquent taxpayers to the public — a responsibility that the commissioners continue to shirk because of a juvenile desire to punish a local newspaper for doing its job.