Local News

Contaminated transformer site owes county thousands

Posted October 26, 2009 6:03 p.m. EDT
Updated October 26, 2009 9:26 p.m. EDT

— 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.