County delinquent tax list incomplete

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County omitted some delinquent taxpayers from a list of real estate accounts advertised last week.

Treasurer Wanda Bryant advised the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the list of accounts in arrears for real estate taxes did not include some property owners. The omissions occurred when the software used by the Treasurer’s Office converted the list from one electronic document format to another for use in the advertisement in the Northern Virginia Daily, Bryant explained.

County supervisors decided recently to revive the practice of advertising the names of accounts in arrears for real estate taxes in the newspaper. The office already makes that information available on the county’s website.

County Administrator Doug Stanley said he and Bryant had been talking for the past couple of months on how to generate more publicity about delinquent tax bills and to increase collection efforts. The county recently hired two firms to engage in collecting delinquent taxes. Stanley said he and Bryant thought about publicizing the list on a regular basis.

Stanley noted in an Oct. 21 email to board members that the advertisement would take up 3½ pages and cost $4,000. The board would need to approve the $4,000 expenditure as well as the transfer of the funds to Bryant’s budget, Stanley added in the email.

The county received a lower price – $1,400 – by advertising last week, Stanley told the board.

Happy Creek District Supervisor Tony Carter asked that the board discuss the matter at the work session, noting that the county used to publish the list years ago, but would doing so for $4,000 pay off? The $1,400 price makes the cost “more palatable,” Carter said.

“I guess part of the discussion here is there any way to find out how well this works, what the intent is,” Carter said. “Is it to shame people? It’s on our website like Doug said. I don’t know how many people look at the hard copy.”

Vice Chairman Archie Fox suggested that the county look at the number of delinquent accounts at this time next year and compare the lists. Stanley said Bryant could compare delinquent tax collections for this November and November 2015.

The Treasurer’s Office received a few calls in response to the advertisement, similar to the last time the county published delinquent accounts, Bryant said.

“We might get enough, well, I know we’re going to get enough to pay for the ad but the thing is that some names weren’t listed,” Bryant said. “I ran a report of delinquent taxes and then our software people, Bright, converted that over to a PDF (portable document format) so that we could put it in the paper and I didn’t know this until after there was a certain one that was not in the paper, then it alerted me to kind of look around.”

Chairwoman Linda Glavis asked how many names were omitted.

“I have no idea,” Bryant said.

Carter said he noticed that the list appeared incomplete, adding that some accounts were in arrears for about $1,300 but the county has some “big ones.” The list would still include people in the process of making payments on their delinquent accounts, Bryant said.

In response to Fox’s question about the omissions, Bryant explained that the names “just dropped.” The software provider was responsible, Bryant added.

“It was not the paper’s fault,” she said.

North River District Supervisor Daniel Murray Jr. questioned whether or not the county should pay the vendor for not doing a proper job. Bryant said the vendor did not charge for the service separately.

The county would need to determine the number of additional pages to advertise the list with the omitted accounts restored, Stanley said. Glavis asked how the county would figure out which accounts dropped off the list.

“We’d have to go one by one and we could do that,” Bryant said.

The treasurer, in response to Carter’s earlier comments, said “I don’t think we’re trying to shame ’em. I think it’s a fact you know and if they don’t – because some of them, Tony, don’t care.”

Carter said he thought advertising delinquent tax accounts has merit and reiterated his desire to track the response.

Some property owners who only owe a small amount to the county and see their name in the paper might quickly try to pay off the delinquent bills, Stanley said.

Many of the delinquencies are for contractor-owned properties, Murray said.

“We need to have a way of forcing, in a way, people to pay and, if a contractor couldn’t get a permit until all taxes are paid in full, then we would probably see a much better payment,” Murray said.

Bryant said she’s made the same suggestion for years, especially for empty lots. Fox asked if the county could impose such a requirement. County Attorney Dan Whitten said the Virginia State Code allows localities to requireme payment before issuing permits but supervisors would need to amend the Warren County Code to reflect the change.

Contractors would argue that they can’t make money on the property until they build, Stanley said. Fox said contractors would find a way to pay county taxes if the board puts the requirement in the code. However, Stanley said contractors could get around the requirement if the property owner pulled the permit in his or her name.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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