5 Simple Steps to Annual Billing Bliss!

5 simple steps

As the start of the fiscal year now approaches, the quick and hectic turnaround time to mail out tax notices appears more and more imminent. So what can be done in the months leading up to the annual billing cycle?

We spoke with the Randolph County Tax staff – who has this process down to a science – to put together this 5-step list of best practices to help you prepare for a smooth success in the months leading up to the big day.

Step 1: Set Annual Billing Process Deadlines

  • Each year, by the end of May or first of June, hold a combined meeting between your Tax, Finance, and IT staff members to set deadlines for all processes related to annual billing. In this meeting, outline any outstanding issues and prioritize any issues directly related to Billing that may need to be resolved.

Step 2: Verify Your Billing Data

  • Using your current Billing & Collections system, use queries to determine the validity of your data. For example, try running a query to ensure that all abstracts contain their proper taxing jurisdictions.
  • Keep a list of any billing errors that have been made in the past and track these issues from year-to-year to ensure that the same mistakes are not made twice.

Step 3: Sync Current Data to Test Servers

  • By early June, enlist key IT staff members to ensure that your test servers for Trial Billing are imported and updated with your current, verified billing data.
  • Compare the real estate values between your B&C system and your Computer Aided Mass Appraisal (CAMA) system. For example, check the totals from CAMA for parcel count, land value, real building, deferred value, historical deferred value, and total real property values.

Step 4: Trial Billing

  • After your CAMA & B&C data is synced with your test servers, begin your initial testing for the annual billing process.Trial billing consists of running through the annual billing cycle on your test servers to ensure the data is validated.
  • If issues in trial billing are located, clean up the data causing the issues before taking the next steps in the process.
  • Repeat the trial billing cycle to ensure that the revised data being entered during testing is not flawed. It is suggested to repeat this cycle weekly until your annual billing day arrives.

Step 5: Set Cutoff Date for Data Entry

  • By mid-June set a data entry cutoff date in your county tax office for all CAMA and Assessment staff. No data can be entered or changed after this date for the current billing year. If applicable, have IT staff set the Assessment staff user access rights to “ready only”.
  • The purpose of the cutoff date is to prevent your Billing numbers from continuously changing – if your numbers continue to change it is like you are chasing a moving target.
  • Any changes that occur after your cutoff date will be made after you perform the annual billing process.

So, as you start to make your plans for the upcoming billing process, just remember to refer to this 5-step list to annual billing bliss!

Discount Billing: Guilford County Explains the Pros and Cons

discount billing

As the annual NC property tax billing cycle comes to a close for most counties, we spoke with Greg French, the Assistant Tax Director of Guilford County,  to gain insight on the discount billing period that his jurisdiction offers to their taxpayers.

Guilford County’s property tax discount period extends annually through August 31. If taxpayers pay their property tax bills by that date, they receive a 1% discount. Mr. French shared with us some of the reasons his county continues to offer a discount billing period.

The Pros and Cons of Discount Billing

There are advantages, says French, to both the jurisdiction and the taxpayer in offering a discount period.

The advantages to property owners are evident – they have the opportunity to pay less in taxes if they make their payment by the designated time.

In turn, the jurisdiction enjoys the receipt of cash earlier in the fiscal year than they would without the discount billing period. By September 1, barely two months into the fiscal year, Guilford County has usually collected a little over 60% of their entire tax levy!

Once the money has been collected, it’s there for the county to use for investments earlier or to spend on projects that have been approved in the budget for that fiscal year.

If you choose to offer a discount billing period, be aware that it will decrease the overall NC property tax levy that you collect. The difference is usually written off by the county tax department as a credit for the individual taxpayer if it is paid by the deadline.

For Guilford County, the cost of offering a discount period is outweighed by having the funds readily available for use earlier in the fiscal year. Plus, the discount has become something that the taxpayers have become accustomed to and enjoy.

Faster Cash Requires Quicker Billing

In order to give taxpayers in their county enough time make their payments before the end of the discount period, Guilford County has to be ready to create and mail the bills as early as possible after the fiscal year begins.

This requires them to stay on top of their data throughout the first six months of the calendar year so that their only holdup is awaiting that year’s property tax rate. As you know, county commissioners have through the end of June to decide on the rate.

“Ideally,” says French, “you should be able to send out your property tax bill almost immediately after the last jurisdiction has agreed on the tax rate for the next fiscal year. You’ve got to be ready. Your data has to look good. We don’t wait until July to look for inconsistencies. We stay on top of it throughout the spring and are able to keep up with the data and fix any inconsistencies ahead of time.”

Guilford County annually bills and collects NC property taxes for twelve municipalities, twenty-three fire districts, and five special districts, including over 200,000 parcels of land. It can be quite a challenge, but Guilford County’s goal is always to complete their billing cycle by the second week in July. This year, they got everything sent out by July 15.

Having a well performing property tax system is half the battle. “We’ve been able to continue the early July billing since we’ve implemented NCPTS as our system,” says French. “The system performed very well this past billing cycle.”

In addition, this was a revaluation year for Guilford County and they had fifteen new tax districts to add to their billing cycle. “With Farragut’s help we were able to incorporate these new districts into the system and still do our billing by the middle of July,” French told us.

Overall, the choice to go with a discount property tax billing period is your choice and really depends on the preferences of individual counties. There are both positives and negatives in offering the discount. You have money coming in immediately and keep the citizens in your district happy, but overall have a decrease in the property tax levy for your county.

 

*Special thanks to Greg French, Assistant Tax Director for Guilford County, for providing his advice on annual property tax discount billing in his county.

4 (More) Savvy Strategies to Bolster NC Property Tax Collections

 

In last week’s blog post, I outlined some tried and true collection techniques. This week we will explore four more ways to help you boost your NC property tax collection rates.

Implement Detailed Tracking

If you aren’t regularly following up with taxpayers who have opted for payment plans or with financial institutions and employers related to delinquent taxpayers, chances are you are missing out on a chunk of revenue.

It is important to schedule regular follow-ups and reviews of both payment plans and attachments and garnishments to ensure that nothing slips through the cracks. There are software programs, such as NCPTS, that can make keeping tabs on payments much simpler. Whether you have one of these systems or whether you are still keeping paper trails, it is a good idea to manually review both payment plans and attachments and garnishments periodically.

Zero in on Opportunity

If you have limited resources to deploy for your collection efforts, you’re not alone. Many tax offices are simply understaffed, so it is important to prioritize your NC property tax collection efforts by the amount owed. Accounts that stand to bring in a larger chunk of revenue will offer more in return for your time and effort.

Ensure Accuracy

Mistakes cause delays. If the listings that you send to taxpayers are inaccurate, you will only delay the money coming in the door, so be sure to check, check, and recheck to ensure accuracy on any taxpayer communication.

Image Documents

The ability to easily pull up tax bills and communications when a taxpayer calls or visits your office is key to efficient and effective property tax collection. So, consider attaching images or PDF files to your taxpayer records to ensure that you’ll be able to easily call up any necessary information. NCPTS is one property tax system that offers this functionality to its users.

For more information to help you maximize your NC property tax collections, be sure to read 3 Smart Tips for Maximizing NC Property Tax Collections.

3 Smart Tips for Maximizing NC Property Tax Collections

3 smart tips

 

Whether your county is one of those struggling or one that is riding high in the 90s, I don’t know of many that couldn’t use the revenue generated from an extra 1-2% increase in those rates.

So, as June 30th once again approaches, maximize your NC property tax collections with these tips from the pros.

Begin Early

Most professional debt collectors will tell you that beginning your NC property tax collections early is the most important thing that you can do to ensure success. While it is too late for this year, this tip should be top of mind as you head into July.

Communicate Clearly

Local governments are statutorily required to provide taxpayers with various notifications related to NC property tax collections. Even so, taking extra steps to make sure your message is communicated clearly can go a long way towards evoking a prompt response.

Here are a few tips to guarantee the taxpayer gets your intended message:

  • Put the due date or respond by date in the headline section of your letter or notification and bold it throughout your document.
  • Don’t forget the power of your P.S. Experts agree that this is the most read portion of any letter, so use it to your advantage by including brief instructions and a reiteration of the deadline.
  • Make your envelope stand out. Consider stamping or printing a respond by date or the word URGENT on the outside of the envelope. This alone can increase the chances that your NC property tax communications get opened and read immediately.
  • Make sure your letter is clear and easy to understand. Provide instructions in a bulleted list and underline key parts of the letter such as consequences and impending actions.
  • Finally, do a quick read-through before sending your letter. Most people skim rather than read. So, skim your letter or notice, paying attention only to headlines, bolded items, and bulleted points. If you can still get the intended message from only these parts, you have a letter that is likely to get results.

Nurture Relationships

If you have a few primary banks or employers in your county or municipality, be sure to maintain good relationships with these institutions so that when it comes time to issue attachments and garnishments you’ll have a better chance of garnering cooperation.

Keep these key tips in mind as you prepare to wrap up your NC property tax collections for this year and be sure to check back next week for three more collection-maximizing strategies.

Property Tax Collection for Other Tax Authorities

tax authorities

Did you know that if you have delinquent taxpayers for another taxing unit within your borders, you could be liable for those unpaid taxes?

It’s true. G.S. 105-364 sets forth the specific responsibilities for property tax collection when you have another taxing unit’s delinquent taxpayer or his or her qualifying property within your borders.

First, to be held responsible, you must receive a Certificate of Unpaid Taxes and a copy of the tax receipt from the original taxing authority within 10 years of the original tax due date.

This sets in motion your responsibility to exhaust all means of property tax collection for the unpaid taxes. The statute is clear that you must expend the same effort to collect another taxing unit’s unpaid taxes as you would if the taxes were owed directly to your taxing unit.

Duties to Report

You must also submit a response to the Certificate of Nonpayment within thirty days.  This response should state that you have either succeeded in your efforts of property tax collection, have begun the process of collecting the taxes, or cannot collect them.

At ninety days from the date of the Certificate of Unpaid taxes, your taxing unit must again submit a report on your property tax collection efforts, either that the taxes have been collected or that you are unable to collect the taxes.

If you respond that you are unable to collect the taxes, you must do so under oath, stating that you have used every means available for collecting the unpaid taxes.

Duties to Collect

There is one bright spot in property tax collection for another taxing authority – your taxing unit is allowed to assess a 10% penalty on top of the delinquent tax amount that is then payable to your general fund. Upon successfully collecting the unpaid taxes, your taxing unit has a duty to submit the tax revenue to the original taxing unit within five days of the receipt.

As mentioned earlier, your taxing unit can be held liable for the unpaid taxes if you don’t meet your responsibilities as set forth in G.S. 105-364. If you fail to make the thirty or ninety-day reports or do not make a statement under oath that you are unable to collect the unpaid taxes, your taxing unit will be on the hook for the unpaid taxes.

Be sure that your taxing unit meets these key deadlines to ensure that your county doesn’t end up on the losing end of property tax collection.