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Contaminated transformer site owes county thousands

Posted October 26, 2009

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— Nearly $150,000 in property tax revenue has gone uncollected in Wake County, leaving many taxpayers facing the possibility of foreclosure.

But local leaders aren't ready to take action just yet against one delinquent property owner, saying doing so could cost the county more money than it would collect.

Leaking transformers buried for years beneath the soil contaminated the old Ward Transformers Sales & Services site on Mount Herman Road in Wake County with polychlorinated biphenyls.

The cancer-causing chemicals leaked into nearby Lake Crabtree and moved downstream. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to clean up an estimated 100 tons of toxic soil at a cost of more than $60 million.

The company, which has filed for bankruptcy, has outstanding tax bills dating the last six years. In 2003 and 2004, alone, it owed $14,246.23.

Calls to Ward seeking comment have not been returned.

The property is in Wake County Commissioner Tony Gurley's district.

"This is a unique situation," Gurley said. "They get a tax bill every year. They haven't been paying it. They're not an operating entity."

Typically, the county would foreclose on the land, but because Ward has filed for bankruptcy, the county cannot. Even if it could, local leaders say, they would not want to, because it is contaminated.

The property has millions of dollars in liens against it from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is cleaning the site, and Gurley says it would cost too much to foreclose on the land and clean it up.

"It's a no-win situation," he said. "I regret that we're not able to collect property taxes. At some point, (I hope) that land could be returned to a productive use."

Ward isn't the only company with unpaid taxes more than five years old in the county. There are nearly 1,300 outstanding bills in Wake totaling more than $147,000.

Compared with other counties – Mecklenburg County, for example, has nearly $6 million in unpaid property taxes – local leaders say it's a reasonable amount.

"I'm pretty proud of the size of the list when you consider we've got 330,000 parcels – and talking about unpaid, there's 1,300 on the list," county revenue Director Marcus Kinrade said.

"For the size county we have, I feel very confident Wake County taxpayers are getting extreme efficiency out of this office," he continued.

Kinrade says the county looks to take action against anyone who owes more than $100 for at least a year.

"Our goal is to collect everything. We try and ensure a fair and equitable tax base," he said.


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  • scubasteve Oct 27, 2009

    Does anyone else think the county should have discretion on what/who they foreclose on? In this scenario, they clearly don't want the Ward site, and said so quite clearly.

    If discretion is allowed, how does one insure it is not being abused? Would county employees be exempt from paying taxes and subsequent foreclosure? How about former and current county commissioners, their friends and family? Businesses that deal extensively with the county? Those business owners? Where do you draw the line?

  • tran Oct 27, 2009

    I'm with pedwards8. The clean up of PCB oil leaking into the ground will cost orders of magnitude more than all the back taxes owed by everyone. I guess I'm surprised Ward was able to stay in business until 2003.

    I'm not an environmental engineer but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

  • BeenHereSince67 Oct 27, 2009

    whatelseisnew: You're saying we can trust Big Biz to always do the right thing for citizens - Right?

    If you lived here when the whole sorry story about Ward Transformer dumping PCBs on the roadsides of our state to get rid of it at "no cost to the company" was exposed, and if that mess had been dumped into YOUR front yard (as happened to thousands of NC citizens), you'd might feel differently. Maybe you don't know the whole sorry story about this company. There is way more to this than the bit of land at the company site.

    Big Biz can NEVER be trusted to do ANYTHING for the good of the population if affects their bottom line. The proof of this is in the news every day. Just look what China and their 'companies' are doing to their own people and country with industrial pollution from their booming economy.

  • whatelseisnew Oct 27, 2009

    "Can WRAL step up to the plate and do a story on the family and their lifestyle! This is the classic story of greed in America where companies take the rewards, live happy and rich ever after and leave the mess to the taxpayers to clean up!"

    Yes the government should immediately close all private businesses.

  • whatelseisnew Oct 27, 2009

    Want a fair tax base. Do away with all property tax.

  • Vincenzo R. Abacus Oct 27, 2009

    Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.

    - Ambrose Bierce

  • OSX Oct 27, 2009

    This is off their website: odd, I guess they are still in business.

    While Ward's headquarters is located in and the majority of its manufacturing takes place in Raleigh, NC, adjacent to the Raleigh/Durham International Airport (RDU), Ward also maintains sales offices in major markets across the US. Below is a list as well as the telephone numbers for those offices.

    Atlanta 404-525-8650
    Baltimore 410-532-7199
    Chicago 312-648-0074
    Detroit 313-961-7387 Houston 713-738-8011 Miami 305-374-3839 New York 212-509-8089 Philadelphia 215-561-1269 Raleigh 919-787-3553 Richmond 804-355-1430

    The postal address for corporate headquarters is: P.O Box 90609 Raleigh, NC 27675

  • blondton13 Oct 27, 2009

    They had enough money to get their whole house repainted a few years ago - I know the people that did it. Pathetic.

  • nerdlywehunt Oct 27, 2009

    Can WRAL step up to the plate and do a story on the family and their lifestyle! This is the classic story of greed in America where companies take the rewards, live happy and rich ever after and leave the mess to the taxpayers to clean up!

  • 3779LRRP Oct 26, 2009

    If I were Wake County, I believe I would forget about the back taxes. With the burial and leaking PCB's at the Ward site, they (Wake) had better hope this does not turn into another "love canal" environmental disaster caused by a chemical company in Niagra Falls NY. That once expensive land is condemed. And probably will be for a long time. Building on the Ward site may be an improbability if not impossibility.

    I am not an evironmental engineer by no means, just an informed reader.