Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Property tax collection story notes

I've got a story in today's paper about the increase in property tax collections.

I'll post a couple things here that weren't in the story because of length.

First, congrats go to John Duncan III, (left) who took over the county trustee’s office in September, and his crew for their hard work.

(You know, making phone calls, cashing and depositing checks, etc. No, I’m kidding. They worked hard. I'd hope.)

But, as the county administration – which doesn't oversee his office – said: Folks should remain cautiously optimistic about the state of Knox finances.

Will more money come in? Or is this it?

So far Duncan's office has collected roughly $231 million (this includes about $3 million that came in after the Feb. 28 deadline, but was postmarked before then). But, the Mike Ragsdale administration, which put together the county's current spending plan, expected to reap $247 million in property tax collections.

I asked Duncan what he thought about the projections, and it would have been easy to take a shot, say they were too high. But he didn't. (I don't know if they are or not. I expect they're probably about right.)

Instead, he pretty much said his office will “blow them out of the water.” He pointed out that this time last year, the office collected almost $200 million and then ended the fiscal year in late June with $235 million.

Now, I don't think he's going to collect another $35 million between now and then (because not everyone is going to pay up). But, I also figure he's going to collect more than the $17 million needed to make up the difference to what he's received now and what the budget calls for.

(The office also gets a $7 million payment from KUB, so, really, we're down to $10 million.)

Another thing.

A little more than a month ago Duncan partnered with three of the area's largest banks. It's a common-sense and long-overdue move, but for some reason Knox County wasn't doing it.

Duncan changed that. And it paid off. (Note: last week I got paid by the cliche. This week it’s by the pun.)

Apparently, taxpayers also liked this convenience. They opted to pay their bills – a combined $4.3 million – at one of the 50 or so branches ( with BB&T, First Tennessee and Home Federal)

Compare that to the $6.2 million collected at the Farragut satellite office (which collected the most tax dollars out of the satellite offices). But, Farragut was open throughout the tax season, which runs from September through the end of the year.

The bank branches were open for a little more than a month.

Another move he made – and something else not done under his predecessor – was send out two notices. The first in October, the second in late January. (The second one apparently cost $16,000, but there’s probably a savings in there if the trustee’s office doesn’t have to go after delinquent bills. I'd hope.)

Here’s a few other figures for the number nerds out there.

Duncan’s office billed folks for a combined $240 million. The county expected $247 million. But, the county numbers also included:

  • $3.48 million in delinquent taxes
  • $2.8 million from taxes collected through the courts
  • $1.7 million in interest and penalties
  • $7 million from KUB under a PILOT plan

Duncan’s office doesn’t have the breakdown yet, but they haven’t received the KUB payment, which it will in April when it’s due.

The projected $247 million is sent to the county and divided three ways:

  • $105.7 million goes to the general fund
  • $110.8 million to the schools
  • $30.8 million to debt

Duncan’s office also gets a small cut. The rest will head to the reserve tank or go toward paying off debt, which has the folks on the sixth floor of the county’s side of the Deathstar running scared.

And speaking of those folks . . .

Just because tax collections are up, the administration doesn’t want to spend. And it’s still prepared to cut back, which includes laying off employees.

Both county Mayor Tim Burchett and his chief of staff, Dean Rice, said – despite the bump – county government is too big.

“We don’t feel it changes the direction of the administration,” Rice said. “Government (still) needs to be run as efficiently as possible.” (If it’s possible, he should seriously trademark that quote. I actually had it written before he said it.)

Added Burchett: “The public is demanding that we spend less.”

Personally, I'd like a check from the county if it has money left over.

So yeah, spend less.

On a side note, any company in the Knoxville Yellow Pages that says it will fix computers "24/7" is a fraud. Don't use them. Boycott them. Whatever. Best Buy sucks, too, by the way. My computer went down last night, and none of them came through. Lying *$&#@)*. That's why I'm late to post.

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