By Tammy Gray
The Navajo County Treasurer’s Office collected 96.9 percent of all property taxes in fiscal year 2013-14, for a total of $82.4 million.
Treasurer Manny Hernandez recently reported that the total collected has improved over the last few years. The total uncollected average was around five percent, then dropped to four percent, and for the last two years has been at 3.1 percent. He credits his department’s success in collections to the ability to make payment arrangements.
“The treasurer’s office does everything we can to work with taxpayers,” he said. “If people will contact us, we will work with them. We will take payments.”
According to Hernandez, most of the remaining uncollected payments are for vacant property, but a few are occupied by owners who have difficulty paying.
“Unfortunately, if they do not come to us and it goes to a tax lien sale we have limited options,” Hernandez remarked. “By then they’ve had a year and a half to pay.”
In addition to collecting property tax payments, the treasurer’s office is responsible for investing the collected funds until they are spent. During the last fiscal year, which ended on July 31, the department generated $1.1 million in interest income. The majority of the interest came from government securities at a yield of 0.92 percent.
According to Hernandez, there are opportunities to earn more, but more risk is involved. He explained that the investments are guided by three principles: safety, liquidity and yield.
“We don’t want to lose our principal cash,” he said. “We are still drawing interest on our dollars and we’re not losing principal dollars as has happened to others.”
He noted that interest rates are starting to rise, but at a very slow rate. His department will continue to monitor rates and risks closely to determine the best investments over the course of the current fiscal year.
As of June 30, the treasurer’s office had approximately $156.6 million invested, including $32.9 million in short-term investments, $100,000 in certificates of deposit and $123.6 million in government securities.
Hernandez pointed out that although interest rates have increased slightly for certificates of deposit, he is waiting to see whether the rates will continue to climb so that the county doesn’t end up locked in at a lower rate.