Prince Edward, Buckingham collect nearly all tax debt

Published 10:00 am Thursday, February 29, 2024

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Some area treasurers prove true Benjamin Franklin’s famous saying that taxes are one of two things in the world that are certain. Some of the counties in our region are seeing nearly 100% collected on tax debt assessed on real estate. 

They mark this achievement each year as they tally up the amount that remains uncollected after 20 years, the state-mandated point when they have to write-off what remains unpaid. 

Treasurers in Prince Edward, Buckingham and Charlotte counties write off less than a few hundredths of a percent of real estate assessments each year.

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“We have 20 years,” Buckingham Treasurer Christy Christian explained. “Then after the 20th year, that year has to be written off.” 

On Dec. 31, 2023, Christian said the county wrote off what was left unpaid for real estate taxes from 2003.

“When you look at it, our collection rate is really good,” she said. “For 2003, we had, this is just for 2003 which is the most recent year written off, we had $3,926,251.76 assessed back in 2003 and we wrote off $7,878.81. Our collection rate was 99.8% on that.”

Remaining tax debt only in the hundreds

Next door in Prince Edward County, Treasurer Donna Nunnally said the county was left with only $198.23 from 2003 to write off at the end of December 2023. Amounts there are similar for previous years with $196.51 written off in 2022 on the 2002 tax assessments, $133.93 in 2021 for 2001, $122.13 in 2020 for 2000, and $241.90 in 2019 for 1999.

“Included in these totals are two parcels that have been removed from the tax books by the Commissioner of the Revenue’s office and one parcel that doesn’t exist but hasn’t yet been removed by the Commissioner of the Revenue’s office,” Nunnally explained. “The land owner said it was absorbed by surrounding properties but hasn’t yet been proven. We also have another parcel that is in litigation to have the deed corrected. Additionally, three parcels will be or have been complicated sales due to GIS issues, being unmapped or the purchaser fell through.”

The write-off in Charlotte County also was small.

“We had to write off $21.70 for 2003 due to the parcel not bringing enough at auction,” Berkeley said.

Collecting the tax

Christian said treasurers in Virginia have a lot of options when it comes to collecting delinquent real estate taxes.

A 10% penalty is added to the tax due the day after the deadline for payment, she explained. Additionally, interest is added at the amount of 10% each year, Christian explained.

“Interest begins the following month and that’s 10% per year, which is a little less than 1% a month,” she added.

Failing to pay by the deadline, Christian said, means that a $100 tax bill becomes $110 after the deadline passes.

All of the offices also rely on sending delinquent notices to property owners.

“Many times when folks get their delinquent notice, that jogs their memory and they tend to either call in for a payment plan or pay it,” Christian said.

She pointed to one of the most handy measures in their toolbox.

“When a property is sold, taxes must be paid at the time of sale,” Christian said.

Both Buckingham and Charlotte counties also rely on local measures that limit what property owners can do while the tax remains delinquent.

“Something that the County of Buckingham does is no permits can be issued for a property if there are delinquencies,” Christian said. “That remedies a lot of it.”

Berkeley said Charlotte County also does not allow permits to be issued, along with imposing a tax lien on the property and using “debt set-off with state taxes.”

That’s also used in Buckingham County.

“We can submit to the state for debt set off, which is intercepting someone’s state income tax refund and applying it,” Christian said. “We all have established our methods of collection and time frames.”

A three-year rule

Both Charlotte and Prince Edward treasurers said selling the property to collect the unpaid tax is a measure they use once it is allowed under state law after three years.

“If the taxes remain unpaid after two years, we mail letters informing the owners of our intention to submit their parcel to the collection’s attorney,” Berkeley said. “If not paid or a payment plan established, our office will submit the parcels to the attorney. They will begin the legal requirements to handle the judicial sale process. This process takes time and incurs fees.”

She said property owners can redeem the parcel at any time prior to the sale by paying the tax and all associated fees, interest and penalties.

In Prince Edward County, Nunnally said normal collection processes are practiced until properties are three years delinquent. 

“After the three-year mark, if payments are not being made to resolve the debt, the law firm Taxing Authority Consulting Services PC will auction these properties to cover any taxes and/or collection costs owed to the county,” Nunnally said.

Christian said the treasurer can also do bank liens.

“We can garnish,” she said. “It is called the treasurer’s lien, which is a bit different than a regular garnishment. We can take 100% of the paycheck if we choose to. Generally though, we do not do that.”

Christian said this option is usually just for the collection of personal property taxes. 

Help for anyone struggling with tax debt

All three county treasurers said they will work with property owners to help them get their taxes paid.

“I would just like the landowners to know if they are having issues, please call the office before it gets so far behind,” Nunnally said for Prince Edward County. “We will try our best to help them with a reasonable payment plan.”

In Charlotte County, Berkeley said they also offer to work with property owners through payment plans and pre-payment options.

“And we accept credit cards for payment of any taxes due,” she said.

In Buckingham County, Christian said they work with taxpayers with payment plans.

“The County of Buckingham offers payment plans,” she said. “We have a lot of people that are on payment plans. They pay monthly and once they catch up and it’s resolved then that’s good. We also offer so that people don’t get behind. We also allow people to prepay their tax and that way they’re ahead of time.”

Christian said this helps older folks who are on a fixed income. 

“It makes it easier for them to pay their taxes to us,” she said. “They can determine what their annual tax is and then split that up monthly and pay us ahead of time. So that’s been something that’s helped or does help.”

Looking at treasurer standards

Christian said county treasurers also have standards for getting their offices accredited by the state treasurer’s association.

“There are certain requirements that have to be met in order for your office to be accredited. And one of those requirements is your collection rate must be a certain percentage,” she said. “So like this year was 2023. We have to have a collection rate on 2022 after one year of 90%.” 

The association does allow localities to adjust that percentage based on the unemployment rate, she explained.

“Since I’ve been treasurer, we have not had to adjust by the employment rate,” Christian said.

“Our collection rate for the 2022 tax in December was 94.68%,” she said.

Christian explained the Treasurer’s Association also requires that the tax debt collection rate two years out be at least 95%. Her office was at 96.87%, and that did not factor in the unemployment rate. 

“We have an overall collection rate of 98.55% on our real estate,” Christian said, explaining this is for all of this tax over the past 20 years.

Charlotte County also has a solid collection rate meeting the state association standards.

Berkeley said the collection rate there was 95.75% on June 30, 2023, for the 2023 fiscal tax year.

“We bill on a fiscal tax year which is from July 1 to June 30, with an assessment date of July 1,” she explained. “The rate collected for the first half due Dec. 5, 2022, was 98% and for the second half due June 5th was 93.49% with an average of 95.75%.”

And Berkeley’s office hit that June 30, 2023 number without having sent its paid due notices yet.