Rockingham County to Collect Nuisance Fees for Cities, Towns
July 4, 2018
Source: Rockingham Now
UNC School of Government (Fighting Blight with Property Tax Bills)
Center for Community Progress (CCP) (Implementing a Coordinated Approach to Address the Systemic Causes of Vacancy and Abandonment in High Point, North Carolina full report)
A handful of local municipalities will get some help from Rockingham County in collecting fees for nuisance abatement starting this month.
Earlier this year, a project was presented to the county commissioners to add city and town nuisance abatement fees to the county’s tax bills that are sent to property owners every July.
“The idea came out of Eden and a commissioner,” said Mark McClintock, county tax director.
What spurred it on, he explained, was a UNC School of Government study on fighting urban blight in High Point. Adding the code enforcement fees to the tax bills prompted some payments.
Eden, Stoneville and Reidsville have already submitted their paperwork, McClintock said, although all municipalities in Rockingham County have shown interest in the program. It’s a little more complicated for Wentworth, as the town does not have a tax rate for the county to collect.
The Reidsville City Council just approved the change on June 12.
When the city steps in and performs tasks that property owners fail to do, such as mowing grass or demolishing a condemned structure, the cost incurred by the city is passed along to the property owner.
However, according to Reidsville Assistant City Manager Chris Phillips, these charges are some of the most difficult to collect, even after researching ownership through the county’s tax records.
“Primarily, the owners are usually hard to track down. They are deceased with no clear heirs or there are multiple heirs with no one person taking responsibility,” Phillips said in a June 1 memo to the city manager.
“The same reason the properties got into bad condition makes finding a person to pay difficult,” he continued.
A lien is put on the property, and when the property changes hands, if the closing attorney does a proper lien search, the city gets paid. If not, the new owner is billed.
“Unfortunately, the related properties are not very marketable and do not get sold often,” Phillips said.
On June 12, Phillips addressed the entire city council about the issue – and about the opportunity the city has through the county to recoup nuisance fees.
“A while back, the county started working on the ability to put our nuisance fees on the tax bill. Every property gets a tax bill annually, and there are procedures to go through if you do not pay your tax bill,” Phillips said.
“With the county, if you don’t pay your taxes, at some point the county will consider foreclosing on your property,” he said. “The county has become a little more aggressive in the last couple of years at foreclosing. They have foreclosed on some properties in our city; these properties usually end up on the courthouse steps at auction.”
Phillips said sometimes a neighbor will buy the property and turn it into a community garden or park.
“The county was looking at [fee collection] as an experiment, and we said if we can do it, let’s do it,” he said.
An interlocal agreement between the city and county has been in place since 1992, enabling the county to collect municipal ad valorem taxes. That agreement had to be amended to include Reidsville’s nuisance abatement fees. The Rockingham County Board of Commissioners approved the amendment on June 4, followed by Reidsville Council’s immediate and unanimous approval.
Phillips is confident this change will increase the Reidsville’s collection rate of nuisance fees – although it only applies to new fees, not fees the city is already trying to collect.
“It will be clear what is owed on the property because it will be part of the tax bill,” he said. “It’s going to be clear that foreclosure is a possibility. A lot of these properties have low tax values, and the amount that we’re going to put on there for a nuisance fee may be more than the tax that’s owed.”
“This is going to be a step forward in collecting some of that money that the city and the citizens of Reidsville are putting out to keep the neighborhoods clean.”
Donna Setliff, Reidsville’s community development manager, explained that junk car removal is not included in these fees. The city has a deal with a local towing company which tows the vehicle away.
“Their pay is being able to salvage the vehicle, so we’re not actually having to pay anything at this point, so there are no charges with that,” she said.
If the agreement with the towing company was not in place, the city would incur the charge of removing a junk vehicle and, provided it’s deemed a nuisance, would be able to include it in the fees sent to the county for collection.
Phillips said the Reidsville sends notices to owners to clean up their properties – about 400 properties each year – and the city ends up cleaning up about 25 percent of them.
“It’s usually about $100 to $200 by the time someone has to go out and clean one up,” he said. “And then you get into demolition, which can be $5,000, $6,000, up to $10,000, depending… a lot of our old properties have asbestos which runs the price up.”
McClintock said while planning and zoning departments in municipalities have many other things to do, the county can take this fee collection off their plates. It was a simple function that could be maneuvered within the county tax department’s software. In its first year, about 300 nuisance abatement fees have been added to tax bills.
“It fulfills the interest that the county and city governments have, to get properties’ fees paid and to get blighted properties back on the books with someone paying the taxes or buying them and fixing them up,” McClintock said.