Smithfield Herald

July 14, 2014

New Tag & Tax program is helping Johnston County so far

So far, the state’s new way of collecting vehicle property taxes is helping Johnston County, increasing the collection rate from 96.18 percent to almost 100 percent.

So far, the state’s new way of collecting vehicle property taxes is helping Johnston County.

The state launched the “Tag & Tax Together” program last September. Vehicle owners now have to pay their property tax at the same time they renew their registration.

Sheila Garner, Johnston County’s tax officer, gave County Commissioners an update on Tag & Tax at their July meeting.

Last year, Johnston collected 96.18 percent of all vehicle taxes owed to the county. Since the state began collecting the tax on behalf of the county, the collection rate is nearly 100 percent, Garner said.

“From the trend we’re seeing, we should see more revenue from this program,” Garner said later in an interview.

The county won’t have a bottom-line report on Tag & Tax until later this year. When the state launched the program last September, some vehicle owners had to pay the property tax twice in the same 12-month period. That means the county is seeing extra money this year.

For fiscal 2012-13, Johnstonians owed the county about $10.6 million in vehicle property taxes. In 2013-14, during the transition to Tag & Tax, Johnston County collected about $6.3 million. The state collected another $8 million on behalf of Johnston, bringing the total collected to $14.3 million.

County Manager Rick Hester said Johnston didn’t spend the increased revenue. The extra $4 million will stay in the county’s savings. “We don’t just make a plan to spend it just because we collected it,” he said.

Collection rates

Both of Johnston County’s tax-collection rates have increased, Garner said. The county primarily collects two taxes: the vehicle property tax and property taxes on real estate, including homes and businesses.

In the 2013-14 budget year, Johnston collected 99.71 percent of the $98.8 million owed in property taxes. The year before, the collection rate was 99.61 percent. Johnston has the fourth-highest collection rate in the state for counties with more than 100,000 people, Garner said.

Though the state is now in charge of collecting the vehicle property tax, Johnston increased that collection rate between last year and the year before. In fiscal 2012-13, Johnston collected 90.62 percent of vehicle property taxes, with a total of $10.6 million owed. Last year, that increased to 96.18 percent.

Garner thanked commissioners and her staff for the high collection rates. “I’d also like to thank the taxpayers who pay their taxes in a timely manner,” she said, “and assure them that our office will do everything legally possible to collect from those who do not pay their tax bills.”

The amount of property taxes owed has increased too, Garner said, thanks to rising property values. Two years ago, taxpayers owed $96.1 million in taxes on their real estate. That number grew by 3 percent to $98.8 million last year, she said,

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