Last updated: April 06. 2014 1:56AM - 1113 Views
By Keith Strange kstrange@civitasmedia.com

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DOBSON —A plan that will allow county officials to aggressively go after money owed the county could be coming one step closer to a reality.

During its meeting Monday night, the Surry County Board of Commissioners is set to hear an update on plans that will allow the county to collect the millions of dollars owed through things like attachment of bank accounts, liens and garnishment of wages.

The issue came to light during the board’s annual retreat this year, when Tax Director Michael Hartgrove told the board that the new way the state is collecting vehicle property taxes is costing the county sorely-needed money.

Under the previous collection method, taxpayers were allowed to pay their registration fee and register their vehicle, taking up to four months before they were required to pay taxes on a vehicle purchase. The new system enacted by the General Assembly, known as Tax & Tag, requires taxpayers to pay their entire vehicle tax before they register a vehicle. It also takes collection control away from local government and places it in the hands of the Division of Motor Vehicles.

Hartgrove said the new system is placing a strain on the county’s revenue stream.

“This is absolutely the most stupid law I’ve seen in 25 years of doing this,” he said during the retreat. “I’ve seen some stupid laws, but this is a whopper.”

According to the tax director, the Tax & Tag law is designed to ensure counties receive 85 percent of the vehicle taxes owed.

“The problem is we had over a 92 percent collection rate,” he said. “We’re suffering because we’ve had to change the way they’re collected.”

Hartgrove said revenue from vehicle tax collections has dropped from about $240,000 a month before Tax & Tag to an average of $190,000 after the program was implemented.

“That’s $600,000 a year that we were giving you to work with that I don’t have any confidence you’re going to get,” he said.

In an effort to make up some of the losses, Hartgrove and Emergency Medical Services Director John Shelton have been huddling on how to collect money owed the county’s EMS department.

“After meeting with (Hartgrove) and his staff, together we have created a plan to move aggressively toward going after the outstanding debt with the service,” Shelton wrote the board, noting that the department has between $3 million and $4 million in outstanding debt.

The proposal involves creating two new positions in the tax office “that does nothing but pursue debt set-off, tax liens on properties and garnishment of wages.”

Hartgrove has said that it’s time to go after the money.

“The bottom line is if there are delinquencies we have to address them pretty aggressively,” he said. “Saying please isn’t going to work. We’re not going to be heartless, but it may take getting their attention to get them to pay us.”

The meeting is set to get under way at 6 p.m., in the Commissioner’s Meeting Room of the County Government Center in Dobson.

Keith Strange can be reached at 336-719-1929 or via Twitter @strangereporter.

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