Mecklenburg County property taxes have come in at a slightly better rate than at this time last spring, though the largest share of delinquent bills still belong to homeowners or businesses who owe less than $5,000.
The large number of unpaid bills for smaller amounts could signal that some homeowners or small businesses may still be struggling after the recession. But Tax Collector Neal Dixon stressed the economy isnt the only factor behind delinquencies.
At the end of March, the county had collected about 97.67 percent of taxes from bills that were first mailed last fall.
But officials are still trying to bring in nearly $31.3 million that is owed to the county, the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburgs six towns. Thats down from the $38.5 million due at March 26, 2012.
More than 28,000 of the unpaid bills are listed in an advertisement appearing Sunday in the Observer. State law requires counties to publish the notices, which are meant to alert taxpayers that they still owe money. Anyone listed in the notice are charged a fee to help cover the ads cost.
The 44-page ad, which includes bills that were unpaid as of March 7, lists fewer names than the version printed last spring. But it only shows the principal amount of taxes due, though the bills also have been accruing interest since January.
Also, the ads dont list unpaid motor vehicle taxes, nor those for properties under appeal or part of pending bankruptcy petitions.
The $31.3 million in taxes that were due at the end of March does include motor vehicle lisings, and interest.
Most are smaller bills
Tax officials in some other N.C. counties, including in Gaston and Union, say bills for smaller amounts generally make up the bulk of names on their delinquent tax notices.
In Union, only 930 of the 4,275 bills on its notice published in March were for amounts greater than $1,000, said Vann Harrell, the countys tax collections division manager.
A recent report on Mecklenburgs delinquencies showed that about $13.8 million in taxes were due from property owners with bills of $1,000 to $5,000, which Dixon said would include small businesses and most residential properties. That range of tax bills includes properties in Charlotte that are valued from about $80,000 to $400,000.
Thats about 44 percent of the total $31.2 million outstanding debt. Thats about the same percentage as last year.
The report shows that about $8.5 million is owed for bills of amounts greater than $10,000. About $5.5 million is owed for unpaid bills of less than $1,000, the county said.
Dixon said that in the past, the amount of outstanding taxes were spread more evenly among the different groups. But that changed in 2009 as the number of delinquent bills for smaller amounts increased.
Dixon said the continuation of that trend four years later may indicate the lingering effect of the areas unemployment rate and any struggles by small businesses.
Thats not a surprise, says UNC Charlotte economist John Connaughton, especially given the countys high unemployment rate.
He said while some jobs have been added in Mecklenburg in recent years, they are not all in areas like manufacturing or construction that took big hits in the recession and the skill sets arent necessarily transferrable.
You still have a lot of chronically unemployed people and things arent any better for them today than they were for them three or four years ago, Connaughton said.
Connaughton said there are some signs, including a rise in home prices and drop in the inventory of available homes, that suggest construction could pick up again. But he said the area isnt likely to see all a complete return of the other jobs that were loss.
Connaughton said other factors, including the number of people on unemployment benefits and loss of six-figure jobs from Wells Fargos purchase of Wachovia, also still has an impact on personal incomes.
Bethea: 704-358-6013; Twitter: @AprilBethea
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