As required by state statute, County Tax Administrator Mary Helen Norton will make a presentation to the Scotland County Board of Commissioners on Monday to discuss the total amount of unpaid taxes for the current fiscal year that are liens on real property.
As of Jan. 25, that figure stood at $2,531,920.14. “I will present a new number as of Monday that will probably be more,” Norton said.
The tax office plans to publish the names of those responsible for the unpaid liens in March.
“Generally if they would pay by the end of February, the names should not print,” she said.
According to Norton, some people choose to take the risk of waiting until the publication deadline before paying what they owe.
“We’ll get people asking when we advertise, and they shoot for that. They don’t want to pay until right before.”
In many cases, what is owed is only a few dollars. It is likely that some people to be included on the published list will actually owe more in additional fines and fees than they owe in unpaid taxes.
Asked if the publication of names in the paper actually works, Norton said that it “absolutely does” succeed in reaching people that would not otherwise have known that they owed the county.
“People will come in and say that a neighbor called them and told them about it,” Norton said.
The total sum of what is owed includes property liens for taxes from the county as well as fire, school, town of Wagram, town of East Laurinburg and town of Gibson taxes.
Norton’s office has requested that the debts be advertised on March 18 of this year.
“We perhaps have a tad more (in unpaid taxes on property) this year, but not significantly more than last year. By the time it goes to print, hopefully it will be less than what is reported on Monday,” Norton said.
In addition to setting a date for the publication of taxes owed, the commissioners will also schedule dates for their 2013 budget-making sessions.
“That will start off with a budget retreat and continue from there,” said County Manager Kevin Patterson of the process. During the budget retreat the commissioners will receive the latest financial information from Patterson and County Finance Officer Charles Nichols.
Board Chairman Guy McCook said that one of the main goals of the year’s budget process will be to restore the compensation that was taken from employees two years ago to assist in resolving that year’s budget crisis.
During last year’s budget the county was able to reduce mandatory employee furloughs from 2.5 percent to 1.25 percent. During the 2012-13 fiscal year employees took three furlough days rather than six and salaries increased accordingly.
“That is one primary goal, to try to restore funding back to employees. I know that several commissioners are interested in trying to do that,” McCook said.
McCook also confirmed a sobering statistic: The county has the equivalent of 60 fewer full time employees than it did in 2003, when it had well in excess of 300 workers.
The strain on the county’s purse is not unlike what Scotland County’s private citizens and businesses are experiencing, McCook added.
“We’re going through what everyone in the county is going through. Sales tax revenue dropped 40 percent over the past several years. That’s $3 million revenue lost. ”
Cutting six million dollars from what was a $42 million dollar budget, McCook said the county still needed to increase taxes over the past two years.
“And we have not been spending any significant capital dollars. There are still buildings that need roofs, that need painting both inside and out. There are still technology needs and vehicle needs, including emergency services,” McCook pointed out. “We also want to consider how to provide adequate security for our schools and ensure that we are doing everything we can to protect our children.”
It is hoped by the commissioners, McCook said, that they will also be able to have another joint meeting with the school board.
“We always invite the school system to present their budget,” McCook said. In addition to that ritual duty, which is typically performed by the school system’s finance officer and its superintendent, McCook said that he would like to have a meeting involving members of the school board some time before the summer.
“We have had a good working relationship with them,” McCook said.
As reported earlier this week, the commissioners will also receive an explanation from Sheriff Shep Jones about the recent mix up which resulted in eight new Ford police interceptors being delivered without proper authorization from the county.
Jones said last week that he never asked for the vehicles to be manufactured or delivered and that when they arrived in early January, it took him and his office by surprise.
McCook reiterated again on Friday that he expects to learn that the sheriff’s office did make some mistakes, but emphasized that the county will be under no pressure to pay for the cars – even as they sit idle in the parking lot of the courthouse.
“I told (County Manager Kevin Patterson) that we wanted all of the (pricing information about the vehicles) by our meeting on Monday, whatever it took,” said McCook.
Patterson is expected to confirm on Monday that each piece of equipment added to the cars, as well as the cars themselves which were purchased at the state contract rate, could not have been found cheaper elsewhere.
After receiving that report, the commissioners will decide whether to proceed with buying the cars.
“We are trying to fully evaluate this deal. If we’re not getting the best deal, we’ll probably pursue other options,” said the Chairman.
The Scotland County Board of Commissioners will meet on Monday, February 4 at 7 p.m. at the AB Gibson Center in Laurinburg.