City property taxes due on March 31

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Elizabethton property owners have until March 31 to pay real property taxes or face a monthly penalty and potential legal fees for delinquent taxes.
   The city of Elizabethton's finance department is urging property owners to be aware of their tax payment status with mortgage holders and make sure their 2003 taxes are paid.
   Low interest rates have prompted numerous home purchases and refinancing of home loans by many property owners across the country. City director of finance, Brad Moffitt, said problems occasionally arise when property owners are not aware if their property tax is either being paid by their lending institution via the mortgage or if they are individually responsible for paying the tax at year's end. The confusion can result in a property owner being penalized for a delinquent tax payment.
   "A disconnect can occur when you have a mortgage change," he said. "There is no way we can know someone has changed their property."
   Moffitt said the city mailed out roughly 6,600 tax notices to city property owners for the current tax year. Roughly 10 percent of that number will be delinquent, he said. Moffitt also said that an average of 200 tax notices are returned to the city by the Post Office marked "address unknown".
   The county Assessor of Property's office maintains property records. The office sends the property tax roll to Nashville after the county government has approved the year's tax rate. The state Department of Revenue certifies the tax rate and returns the tax rolls to the county.
   Residential and commercial real property taxes are assessed on Jan. 1 for the coming calendar year. Taxes are not billed to property owners until November.
   Elizabethton's tax rate is currently set at $2.30 per $100 of assessed value and has not been raised since 1992, although property tax payments have increased based on reappraisals required every five years by the state.
   When property taxes become delinquent, a property owner receives a penalty of 1.5 percent of the tax amount owed. The penalty is assessed each month the tax remains delinquent. After July 1, the city adds a penalty equaling 10 percent of the base tax amount owed to be paid toward attorney's fees. If the delinquency extends until Oct. 1, the property owner receives another $50 fee paid to the county Clerk and Master's office to file the delinquency notice.
   "This is all covered in state law preventing the city from waiving those fees," Moffitt said. "I do hate to see us collect penalties when people don't know who owes the taxes." He added that he has seen cases where a property tax amount of $2 ends up exceeding $100 in penalties because the property owner was unaware the tax was unpaid.
   In a piece of good news for property tax owners, Moffitt said the city does not plan to recommend a property tax rate to the City Council for the city's fiscal year 2005 budget. An increase of one cent on a tax rate translates to roughly $15,000 in new tax revenue, he said.
   "It is not something we look at as a readily available revenue source because the amount of money is immaterial unless you're talking about a massive tax increase," he said.
   For more information about the status of real property tax, Elizabethton residents may call the city's tax clerk at 547-6205.