Local Politics

Taxpayers peeved about late N.C. refunds

Posted February 15, 2010 5:16 p.m. EST
Updated February 15, 2010 6:56 p.m. EST

— Some North Carolina residents expressed irritation Monday over the fact that state tax refunds will once again be slow in coming this spring.

Antonio McCarver said he didn't receive his 2008 state refund until six to eight months after filing his return last year, and he isn't eager for another wait.

"It was quite a while. It was enough to agitate me because they wouldn't wait that long to get their money if I owed them," McCarver said. "It makes me wonder what is really the health and stability of our state."

Department of Revenue Secretary Kenneth Lay said refunds aren't running behind yet but likely could in the next few weeks. It's simply a matter of math, he said – the state can't send out more money in refund checks than it's bringing in through tax collections.

During the 2009 fiscal year that ended last June, for example, the state collected $16.8 billion in taxes, which was the lowest total in four years. Officials cite the slow economy for the drop in income tax and sales tax payments.

"If you are due a refund, you will get a refund," Lay said. "We want to make sure that people know as early in the process as possible (about potential delays)."

Last year, state officials didn't notify taxpayers of slow processing of refunds until March, when many were already checking the mail or their bank accounts for their money.

This year, the Department of Revenue has added a section to its Web site where people can check the status of their refund and learn more about common problems that hinder issuing checks.

Lay said the situation already looks better than last year. The department has already processed 590, 720 returns – more than twice as many as at this time a year ago – and has issued $400.6 million in refunds, which is $137 million more than mid-February 2009.

"I was new in the job last year, and so we didn't quite anticipate the economy nor the way it hit us," he said. "This year, we wanted to make sure that we were way out in front of it."

Still, taxpayers said being upfront doesn't pay the bills.

"I think that's horrible," Tonya Strickland said of delayed refunds. "I need it now."

"I feel for people who are really depending on those refunds. It's such a hard time for everybody," Sarah Esser said.