Friday, September 17, 2010

County Taxes Short $10 Million!

Collection of county taxes is down — way down and county officials would like to know why.

Mark Seard, Washington County Tax Assessor delivered the news to the Washington County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” Seard said. “I have compiled a yearly report of Ad Valorem Assessments of the county and from September of 2009 until September of this year we are down over $10 million dollars in taxes.”

Seard said $2.5 million was down in public taxes, another $2.2 million in realty and $5 million in personal taxes. “It’s hard to say what is the one factor why these numbers are so high,” Seard said. “These numbers are alarming.”

According to Seard more than $3 million of the $10 million shortage is in automobile taxes. “We have really seen a decrease in our car tags for the county,” said Seard. Paul Watson, board president, asked Seard to do a comparison of tax assessments to surrounding and neighboring sister counties.

Washington County Tax Collector, Patricia Lee said it’s not that county residents are not paying their taxes, it is that more people are not purchasing new cars.

“We have done more tag renewals this year than in years past,” Lee said. “If people do not purchase new cars then the value of that depreciates and goes down every year. We have not had as many new car tags purchases this year. We actually did an audit in June and everything was intact. We are in good standing.”

After speaking with sales representatives from local car dealerships, some said the Cash For Clunkers or now known as CARS (Community Assistance to Recycle and Save) gave the car industry a shot in the arm but hindered future potential car sales.

Seard said a combination of depreciation, non-collected taxes and fewer new auto sales are contributing factors to the county’s $10 million less in total taxes year to date. “Also we’ve been noticing a higher number of out-of-state tags in the county and around the city of
Greenville,” Seard said. “Tags from Louisiana, Arkansas and a rising number of blue car dealer tags are all things we need to look at. These factors are just a percentage of the problem for the city.”

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors adopted a county budget of $29.5 million dollars, over the complaints of citizens who attended a budget hearing.

Walley Morse asked the board about the proposed budget and said that in the past five years the city has lost more than 10,000 people yet the budget for sheriffs department increased by 37 percent with the decrease in people.

Sheriff Milton Gaston Sr., acknowledged the lower population but said there has not been a drop in crimes being committed in the county.

Barbara W. Clark, a retired counselor/educator at
Coleman Middle School, shared Morse’s sentiments and questioned the supervisors’ compassion on raising taxes on county residents. “I am retired, along with these other ladies who are here in attendance,” Clark said. “We didn’t retire as educators to pay you all, all of our money. People can’t afford this, already citizens are having trouble paying their water and electric bills.

Clark said being a retired educator after 28 1/2 years of service, to see her property taxes jump in 2009 from $1,200 to more than $1,600 is too expensive. “I’m being depleted,” said Clark. “The people remaining in the county are being taxed to death. Citizens like myself and others are hurting with this wasteful spending the county has put taxpayer’s dollars’ into like those casinos and title loan companies.”

Morse and Clark questioned the supervisors’ loyalty to citizens of the county — that sparked every county supervisor to speak.

Paul Watson, board president said, it is and always has been the boards’ responsibility to do what is best for citizens of the county. “We work hard to be impartial to everyone,” said Watson. “We don’t want to sit up here on this board like we’re some ‘fat cats’.”

Jesse Amos, District 4 supervisor spoke of how so many jobs that have left the county and country now are located oversees. “I am going to be honest, this city has turned into a service station,” Amos said. “With Wal-Mart and K-Mart being here it is hard to see jobs coming back to this area. The only way I see jobs coming back is if the ‘big people’ gotta go broke and come together as one group regardless of race; black, white blue or brown.”

Al Rankins, District 5 supervisor said he has been on the board for more than 20 years and has always tried to look out for the best interest of the people of this community. “We go into these budget hearings with no secrets,” Rankins said. “There are just some things, some essential services that we must provide to citizens of
Washington County. We have cut this budget to the bare. I’m a conservative person and I spend this county’s money as if it were my own...

Ernest Holmes, District 5 Supervisor told the county residents that their voices can be heard and impacted next year being an election year.

Let’s see… property taxes just went up, car tags are the highest in the state, water and sewage rates are going up in October and real estate values are down 40% from where they were ten years ago. And we wonder why the Director of Economic Development just quit?

The last time I purchased my car tag, they wouldn’t even take a check… CASH only. As I counted out the $874.00, the worker stated, “I bet that’s the most money you ever paid for a little plastic sticker.” I replied, “Not really… I paid a lot more last year.” As I walked out of court house I thought to myself, “I wonder how much of that cash will ever make it to the county?”

Here’s an epiphany for Mark Seard… The reason tax collections are down by $10 million dollars is because tax payers are fleeing the area, leaving fewer and fewer to support the growing majority of residents who feed on our system and pay no taxes! Seard blames a combination of "depreciation, non-collected taxes and fewer new auto sales for the loss"!

What depreciation? The assessed value of my house for tax purposes went up this year! The only thing that depreciated was the appraised “value” of my house which is now less than I paid for it ten years ago.

As for non-collected taxes, whose problem is that? If paying county taxes has become an option, I would like to opt out. The simple truth is that our city and county “officials” can’t (or choose not to) enforce the tax laws. There are no consequences for some residents who don’t pay these taxes. We simply write off this revenue as “noncollectable” and then raise taxes on the remaining few who do pay.

And the “fewer new cars” ruse is the best! Who can afford a new car when they are paying for the most expensive car tags in the state… and driving on the worst roads? I am too busy keeping my tires aligned every three months from our dilapidated infrastructure!

As for our “Supervisors” comments, the only one who speaks even a word of truth is Ernest Holmes, who told the county residents “that their voices can be heard and impacted next year being an election year.”

While grammatically incorrect, the message is clear. Unfortunately for Ernest, he may have just sealed his own fate!