Property owners use all of extra time to pay taxes

Even though they had two months extra this year, about 10 percent of Columbia County property owners missed the deadline to pay their taxes.

 

The deadline this year was Jan. 15, but the county Tax Commissioner's Office still was collecting mail and payments left in its drop box Tuesday.

With several stacks of mail still to sort through, Tax Commissioner Kay Allen said her office had collected about 80 percent of tax bills but expected that to grow.

"We normally have anywhere from 8 to 10 percent delinquency, so this is not off the mark," Allen said. "I think by the time ... we sift through, I think we'll be right in line with a normal year."

Typically, the deadline to pay property taxes in Columbia County is Nov. 15. The postponement was caused by adoption of a Georgia law that imposes a moratorium on property assessment increases for the next three years. The law does not freeze the taxes owed on properties that decrease in value.

To reconcile these changes, an extensive software upgrade became necessary and the Tax Assessor's Office was unable to send out property tax assessment notices by May, as it normally does. Because assessments were mailed late to landowners, tax bills also were sent out late and the payment deadline was pushed back.

Property owners also didn't take advantage of the extended deadline to get payments in sooner, Allen said.

"Even though they had two extra months, people don't want to turn loose the money any sooner than they have to," she said.

Allen believes many taxpayers fail to recognize the tangible benefits of their taxes.

"You see your schools and you see your roads, but you don't see a package you would get from a store," she said.

Jan. 15 also was the tax deadline in Aiken County, where tax officials received a number of last-minute payments.

As of 5 p.m. Friday, about 26,000 of the county's nearly 102,000 tax bills had not been paid, Aiken County Treasurer Linda Sharpe said. That doesn't account for taxpayers who dropped payments in the after-hours lock box or mailed in payments postmarked Jan. 15, she said.

"It's usually a little less than 10 percent, and that's what we're expecting," she said Tuesday.

Tax bills were due Nov. 15 in Richmond County, and about 78 percent of the more than 91,000 statements were paid on time.

Staff writers Stephanie Toone and Erin Zureick contributed to this story.

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.

LATE PAYMENTS

IN COLUMBIA COUNTY

Those failing to pay property tax bills on time are assessed a 1 percent fee on the unpaid balance each month for three months. After 90 days, delinquents are charged a 10 percent fee. If nonpayment continues, the Tax Commissioner's Office places a lien on the property owner's land.

IN RICHMOND COUNTY

The county assessed a 10 percent late fee after Dec. 20. If bills still aren't paid, a lien can be placed on the property holder's land.

IN AIKEN COUNTY

Property owners who missed the deadline will have to pay an additional 3 percent charge on their bills. If the bills are not paid by Feb. 2, the charge increases another 7 percent. Aiken County does not issue liens.

Sources: Columbia, Richmond and Aiken counties tax offices