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Uncollected taxes rise to $5.8 million, but still a small part of overall budgets
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There always are stragglers when it comes to paying taxes, but local officials say taxpayers are a little more sluggish this year than they were last year.

Five months after property owners in Hall County were required to send in their annual property tax payments, more than $5.8 million in property tax revenues for Gainesville and Hall County remain uncollected.

And most of it belongs to the school systems.

The Gainesville Board of Education still is waiting on more than $994,000 of 2009 property tax revenues. The county school system still is owed $3.1 million.

Yet compared to a city school budget of $49.5 million and a county school budget of $197 million, the delinquent dollars are a small part of the bigger budget picture for the systems.

The same goes for Gainesville and Hall County governments. Hall County’s proposed budget for 2011 tops $90 million, and the city’s is $25.5 million.

Property taxes provide less than 40 percent of the city and county budgets and for Hall schools. For the Gainesville school system, property taxes make up about half of projected revenues, said Janet Allison, finance director for the system.

“It’s still a lot of money, but ... compared to it all, it’s a small piece,” Hall County Schools Deputy Superintendent Lee Lovett said.

Though there are more delinquent tax bills this year than last, officials say most will be paid in the next 12 months.

Uncollected 2009 taxes for the county government total about $4.5 million.

At the same point in 2009, there was about $4.1 million of 2008 taxes yet to be paid, said Michaela Thompson, the director of finance for Hall County. Now, only about $1.28 million of those 2008 taxes remain uncollected.

Despite the rise in delinquencies, both the city and the county are still collecting between 97 and 98 percent of the total tax digest each year, which Thompson says is no small feat.

“If a business could do that they would be in heaven,” Thompson said.

Neither the governments nor school systems for city or county build their spending plans expecting to collect 100 percent of property taxes each year. Normally, budgets are built on the expectation that 98 percent of those taxes will be paid by the end of the fiscal year.

And as delinquencies have risen, officials have altered spending plans with the expectation that fewer dollars would be collected.

This year, budgets for fiscal year 2011, which begins in July, were built anticipating 93 to 96 percent of property taxes would be collected.

“We’re being quite conservative,” Hall County Assistant Administrator Phil Sutton said.

As a result, Thompson said the county has offset any effect the delinquent tax dollars would have on the government’s bottom line.

But a majority of those delinquent tax dollars likely will be collected at some point over the next 12 months, local officials say.

And officials said they have been zealous in trying to make sure all the property tax bills are paid.

“We aggressively collect on the property taxes,” said Beverly Williams, financial services manager for Gainesville.

Gainesville’s Department of Administrative Services, which collects taxes for both the schools and city government, usually is able to bring in all revenue from real estate taxes each year. The department works with taxpayers to set up payment plans for those who need extra time.

But this year, for the first time in more than 10 years, the city is planning to sell properties over delinquent property tax payments.

In June, the city plans to auction off 170 parcels for which owners did not pay taxes in 2008, Williams said.

Of those 170 parcels that will be sold, many are portions of undeveloped subdivisions.

And this year’s late taxes are no different. Of the 330 city taxpayers who still owe taxes on about 800 parcels for 2009, between 35 to 45 percent are owners of undeveloped subdivisions, Williams said.

And if those bills are delinquent 18 months after their Dec. 2009 due date, they, too, will face the auction block.

“You don’t want to do it (sell the properties),” said Williams. “... We’re just wanting to collect the tax.”

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