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Talk turns testy over real estate bill delays

Real estate tax bills, with the first installment normally due on June 5, are not in the mail yet.

For that reason, Halifax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Monday night to extend the deadline for the first installment payment of real estate taxes from June 5 to June 16.

Commissioner of Revenue Brenda Powell blamed the delay on Vision, a new real estate software program, that “has had some issues” providing the county with the newest assessment values.

“I want them to be right before I run my book,” Powell told a visibly agitated ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman who asked her to explain why the real estate bills were not yet in the mail.

Powell said she was hopeful she would receive the extract of values on Tuesday and would pass it along to County Finance Director Stephanie Jackson who will put the figures into the MUNIS system so the commissioner of revenue can run her book.

Treasurer Linda Foster said the people who print the bills told her it would be five to seven days after they get the information before they will be able to stuff them and send them out.

“We’re hoping it will be before the 22nd of May, but we have no guarantee,” the treasurer told supervisors.

The company responsible for printing Halifax County’s real estate tax bills also provides the service to many other counties and “you’re kind of on a first-come first-serve basis,” Foster added.

Foster said should supervisors agree to extend the deadline, she must provide the new extended deadline date to the printer to be included on the real estate tax invoice.

“I can get that changed now. We’re at the standpoint of waiting for the values to be balanced out so to speak before Stephanie (Jackson) can put the tax rate on it,” the treasurer added.

Bowman directly questioned the commissioner of revenue saying, “Mrs. Powell, why is it taking so long to get a file out of your office with the new assessed values on them. They were complete by Jan. 1. Why is it taking so long?”

She responded, “It’s not really getting the file from my office. Once it got to Vision, it’s them getting it in so that when we check it, everything is right. They have got to put it in exactly the right place. It’s a lot of different things that have to be done.”

Bowman pointedly asked, “How much time are you putting on this in the last two weeks? How many hours are you spending? We’re late now. These bills should have been out this week. There’s no excuse for these bills not being out in the mail this week 30 days ahead. You have put us in a very precarious situation.”

He continued, “Your office is constitutionally required to get these new assessments out in a responsible and timely fashion. We’ve been doing it every two years. I believe you’re either unwilling or incapable of doing it. That’s what I believe.”

“Well Mr. Bowman,” Powell replied, “I can’t do anymore than what we’re doing.”

 This is the first time in over 20 years the commissioner of revenue’s office has had to work with a new real estate program.

“You can’t just switch stuff from one computer system to another and not have issues,” she told Bowman. “It’s not my fault that the Vision program is not getting the values in where it’s supposed to be.”

Powell said all departments must work together.

“We work every single day,” she said noting her office also is dealing with personal property taxes at the same time they are dealing with real estate taxes.

Bowman then questioned the commissioner of revenue concerning why she was off “three or four days this past week.”

She responded her daughter had surgery last week.

“I’m sorry but I had to take off,” she added.

Bowman accused Powell of being responsible for the delay saying, “It’s at the foot of your door why we are late.

“We really would appreciate it if you would spend a lot of hours getting your file correct,” he said. “That has caused a lot of angst on this board and with staff.”

ED-8 Supervisor W. Bryant Claiborne asked Powell whether she had been sufficiently trained on the new software.

“We had one day,” she replied. “You can’t comprehend everything about this program in one day. We’ve got a lot of other stuff we have got to learn in order to get it to working right.”

Since typically the county has tried to have the bills in taxpayers’ hands 30 days before they are due, Claiborne suggested extending the deadline so that “citizens would have a fair amount of time.”

At that, Bowman made a motion to extend the real estate tax deadline to June 16, with Claiborne offering a second, and the board unanimously approving the extension. 

“We want those tax payments to get in this fiscal year which ends June 30 or it will blow up past due taxes on our year-end financial audit. It won’t be pretty,” Bowman concluded.