Feb 092011

By Tammy Gray-Searles —

Amidst disheartening news about projected county revenues comes positive news from Navajo County Treasurer Manny Hernandez that property tax payments are coming in ahead of schedule.

Hernandez reported that as of the end of January, 59.2 percent of the 2010 property tax levy in Navajo County had been collected. That equals $49,344,178. At this point in the fiscal year, only 50 percent of the taxes are due.

“We are actually doing pretty good, because the second half aren’t due until March,” he remarked.

Hernandez explained that the second half of 2010 property taxes are due March 1 and become delinquent after May 1. Although March is the due date, a large number of property owners tend to wait until closer to the May 1 deadline to make a payment.

According to Hernandez, more than $49 million in property taxes will be due in the coming months.

Of the property taxes paid, a small amount stays with the county, but most is collected on behalf of other entities, such as school, fire, health, road improvement, community college and flood control districts, as well as cities and towns.

Hernandez noted that school districts would especially be relying on the second half of property tax payments this fiscal year, since the state is likely to defer a large chunk of its regular payment to schools.

Recognizing that the struggling economy has made paying taxes difficult for some residents, Hernandez encourages those who might find it hard to pay their property tax to contact his office early, before the taxes are due or become delinquent. He previously explained that his office is glad to work with property owners, as much as the law will allow, to help them stay current on taxes.

“I’d like to tell people, when you get your tax bill, don’t panic,” he said. “We will work with them, but they need to make arrangements right away. It’s a lot easier to help them if they don’t wait.”

County officials were previously unable to take partial property tax payments, but now are able to do so. Hernandez explained that, for example, payment arrangements made upon receipt of a $700 tax bill would allow the property owner to pay $58 per month for one year, and not become delinquent.

“Sometimes it’s a lot easier, I know even for me it is, to make smaller payments every month than to try to come up with a large payment all at once,” he remarked. “I really encourage my staff to talk to taxpayers and encourage them to make payments if they are having trouble paying their taxes.”

Although residents have a substantial amount of time to get caught up on taxes before their property becomes part of a tax lien sale, interest and penalties begin to accrue as soon as the taxes become delinquent. Hernandez pointed out that it is much easier to work out a payment plan before the taxes are late.

“When it becomes delinquent, it goes to a tax lien sale,” he said. “What we’re really selling is the unpaid balance of taxes. The reason we do this is the county and all the other entities have set a budget based on these taxes, and if we don’t receive them, there will be a budget shortfall.”