JEFFERSON-Less than five months on the job and the hiring of Ashe County’s new back tax collection specialist is already paying off.
That’s according to Ashe County Manager Sam Yearick who said in a recent interview with the Jefferson Post that Ann Kitts, the county’s delinquent accounts and enforced collections specialist has collected some $137,000 in delinquent taxes to date.
“I had hoped we would collect $150,000 the first six months so she is on track to exceed that,” Yearick said.
In total, Kitts has some $173,000 in foreclosures already scheduled to work their way through the system, Yearick said.
Uncollected back taxes have long been an issue the Ashe County Board of Commissioners and Yearick have wanted to address.
Yearick said the county’s annual tax collection rate hovers somewhere between 94.5-95 percent. Other counties collect a larger percentage of taxes owed Yearick said, and Ashe County likely ranks among the bottom 10 counties statewide when it comes to the percentage of tax money it leaves uncollected.
Ashe County Tax Administrator Keith Little told commissioners in 2015 the county is owed somewhere around $4.3 million in delinquent taxes, a figure that takes into account all unpaid taxes and accrued interest over a 10-year span.
Yearick said in previous interviews at least some county property owners have failed to make a tax payment in decades. In at least one case, the owner of 16-acres of land on Horse Creek owes the county thousands and hasn’t made a payment since 1985, Yearick said.
Turns out, that property owner died in the mid-1980s which Yearick discovered only after finding a decades old obituary in the New York Times.
In another instance, Yearick said a property owner had apparently abandoned a $10,000-parcel after he sold his California-based software company and moved to Israel.
Yearick said the hiring of Kitts means the county has someone who can dedicate their time to tracking down those stories, and creating solutions to help the county recover what it can and foreclose in appropriate situations.
“We haven’t gotten into garnishments yet – though that’s something we can fall back on – but there is other stuff we have the ability to do,” Yearick said. “The main thing is that we want to work through these things with people. We’re not in this to be punitive. We’re just trying to collect on what we can.”
Yearick said Kitts is also helping to write the policies, procedures and best practices that she’ll use to complete her job. That will include updating and maintaining the county’s delinquent tax collections database, preparing and mailing garnishments, levies and attachments and submitting delinquent accounts to the North Carolina Department of Revenue to be included in its debt set-off program and filing claims with the NCDOR.
She’ll also follow NCDOR procedures to secure the monies by asserting rights to refunds and acting as an advisor to tax office staff on matters relating to debt set-off, Yearick said, and prepare reports to keep tax staff and county administration updated on the state of back tax collection, among other duties.
Yearick said he’s pleased with the progress Kitts has made to date, especially considering the fact that her position essentially breaks new ground in the tax office.
“So far they’re doing a great job,” Yearick said. “I’m very pleased and they are on track to exceed my expectations.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058.