Mecklenburg County property tax payments have come in at a higher rate than this time last spring, but homeowners and businesses still owe more than $27 million to the county, the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg’s six towns.
The largest share of delinquent bills belongs to homeowners and businesses owing less than $5,000.
That large number of unpaid bills for smaller amounts could signal that some homeowners and businesses continue to struggle after the recession, but that’s not the only explanation, UNC Charlotte economist John Connaughton said.
“There is no question that the overall economic picture has an impact on delinquent taxes,” he said.
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But “some just don’t like to pay taxes,” he said. “Even when the economy is booming, like in the 1990s, there are people that don’t pay taxes.”
For some delinquent payers, it’s short-term cash flow, Connaughton said. For others, it’s cheaper to pay interest and penalties.
“They are, in essence, borrowing from the county,” Connaughton said. “And for some it is, ‘catch me if you can.’ ”
At the end of March, the county had collected 98.1 percent of real estate and personal property taxes from bills that were first mailed last fall, Tax Collector Neal Dixon said. That’s up from the 97.7 percent collected at the end of March 2013.
But officials are still trying to bring in about $27.6 million that is owed the county, the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg’s six towns, as of March 31. That’s down from the $31.2 million due at the end of March 2013.
Neighborhoods just south of uptown and along Providence Road have some of the highest unpaid tax bills. Delinquent bills in those neighborhoods average more than $2,000, according to an Observer analysis.
Unpaid tax bills are listed in an advertisement appearing Sunday in the Observer starting on page 1P. State law requires counties to publish the notices, which are meant to alert taxpayers that they still owe money. Anyone listed in the notice is charged a fee to help cover the ad’s cost.
The 46-page ad shows only the principal amount of taxes due, though the bills have been accruing interest since January.
Also, the ad doesn’t list unpaid motor vehicle taxes, or those for properties under appeal or part of pending bankruptcy petitions.
As of Feb. 28, the day Mecklenburg County submitted the ad, it was still waiting on more than 28,000 unpaid tax bills from homeowners and businesses.
Unpaid bills ranged from $1 to more than $153,000. The average bill was about $987, an Observer analysis showed.
There were about 230 outstanding bills with a balance of $10,000 or more.
Tax officials in some other North Carolina counties said bills for smaller amounts generally make up the bulk of names on their delinquent tax notices.
In Union County, only 845 of the 4,252 bills on its published notice were for amounts greater than $1,000, said Vann Harrell, the county’s tax collections division manager.
On March 31, Mecklenburg’s delinquencies included about $13.8 million in taxes due from property owners with bills of $1,000 to $5,000, Dixon said. That range includes properties in Charlotte valued from about $80,000 to $400,000, and those bills accounted for about half of the total outstanding debt.
In March 2013, Mecklenburg’s delinquencies likewise included about $13.8 million due from property owners with bills of $1,000 to $5,000. That represented about 44 percent of the total outstanding debt.
Dixon said the trend in recent years of increasing numbers of smaller delinquent bills remained stable this year with “no significant increase or decrease in delinquency for bills between $0.01 to $5,000,” he said in an email to the Observer.
“If you look at delinquent bills this year,” Connaughton said, “I suspect that the percent is not much different from, say, 1995.”
CL Properties of the Carolinas is the county’s top delinquent taxpayer, owing about $153,000 on a Charlotte property, county tax records show.
The company appealed when the assessed value of the property increased by several million dollars, Jack Carlisle, the company’s Cary-based registered agent, told the Observer.
“We paid $10,000 a month in taxes even while it was under appeal,” Carlisle said.
But CL Properties and the company representing its appeal were unaware of the appeal hearing date, and the county rejected the appeal when no one showed up, Carlisle said. CL Properties on Friday paid the full amount owed, he said.
Another company that was among the top five delinquent taxpayers is Centex Homes, which owes about $69,000 on a total of 215 properties, records show.
“Centex was unaware of any delinquent tax payments and has contacted the city to determine what, if any, taxes are outstanding and the cause of the delay in payment,” spokesman James Zeumer of parent PulteGroup Inc. in Michigan said in an email on Friday. “Centex has a long history of being a good corporate citizen in Charlotte, and we look forward to resolving this situation, as promptly as possible.”
Staff Writer April Bethea and Staff Researcher Maria David contributed.