Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County has one of the highest tax collection rates in the state at 98.8 percent, but one of the methods used to get that money has angered a Raleigh man.
So far this year, the county Revenue Department has collected more than $17 million in delinquent taxes, including $3.4 million from seizing property and $2.8 million through garnisheed wages.
The method that produced the largest return, at $7.6 million, is probably the simplest, but at least one man is stunned that it is legal – deducting money directly from a personal bank account.
"Who are they to go into my bank account?" said Stephen LaPierre, who found that the county had taken about $600 from his Bank of America account for past-due taxes on two vehicles.
LaPierre sold a Chevy Tahoe in early 2010, but he never notified the county, which expected his property tax payment on the SUV.
"If I did get something (like a tax notice), I probably dismissed it," he said Wednesday. "(I thought) 'Oh, I sold that vehicle. I don't owe any tax on that.'"
Revenue collectors saw it differently and went to his bank. Bank of America even tacked on a $100 fee.
Wake Revenue Director Marcus Kinrade said aggressive tax collection is vital, considering that there are more than 740,000 vehicles registered in the county.
"It's not fair to the people who pay their property taxes on time for us not to collect taxes from those who don't want to pay on time," Kinrade said. "The tax collector has a lot of teeth to collect delinquent taxes."
The county also collected taxes that were 20 days overdue on a Mercedes that LaPierre still owns. Revenue officials were able to access his bank account because he had paid taxes with a check before, so they knew his account number.
"It seems to cross the line. You feel kind of violated in that way," LaPierre said.
He said he takes responsibility for his past-due bills, but he believes he and other taxpayers deserve more communication.
"There was no real notification. There wasn't a constant, 'Hey, you owe us for a Tahoe,'" he said.
Wake County generally sends out the bill and one delinquent letter, Kinrade said, adding that the county doesn't have the resources to coax everyone to pay on time. About 97 percent of county property and vehicle taxes are paid on time, he said.
"We don't enjoy in any way using heavy-handed tactics to collect taxes," he said. "We don't enjoy it. It's not fun, but it's our job."
The Revenue Department will work with taxpayers who notify officials that they are having trouble paying what they owe, he said. The county usually sets up an extended payment plan in such cases.
All county tax offices in North Carolina are scheduled to be linked to the state Division of Motor Vehicles by 2013, allowing the DMV to block registration renewals on vehicles with delinquent taxes. Kinrade said that should help resolve some collection issues.