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County's crackdown on delinquent taxes pays off

County's crackdown on delinquent taxes pays off

March 20th, 2017 by Jim Williamson in Texarkana News

When Cathy Hardin Harrison became the Miller County tax collector in 2015, she asked the staff to tell her the dollar amount of delinquent taxes owed to the county.

"I was amazed. It was $14 million. The amount was the total delinquent taxes going back to 1994," Harrison said.

This inspired her to research options to improve Miller County's tax collections.

"I attended the state meetings (Arkansas County Tax Collectors Association) and sat on the front row to listen. We tiptoed through it and talked to other counties who were aggressive in tax collections," Harrison said.

Pulaski County hired a tax specialist to knock on doors of businesses that were delinquent in taxes.

The tax collector and specialist begin encounters with business owners by saying, "It's a significant and a serious matter," according to a news article published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Harrison said Pine Bluff is using Facebook to list businesses with delinquent tax bills. "They're coming in to pay their taxes," she said.

She explained the problem to the Miller County Quorum Court and asked to hire a specialist..

"I went to the Quorum Court to fund a position to investigate and collect past-due taxes," Harrison said.

Sheila Sinyard was hired in March 2016 as the delinquent-tax investigator.

"I'm grateful the Quorum Court funded the position," Harrison said.

Sinyard is using public records, computers and the telephone to track back taxes owed by businesses.

Harrison said she and Sinyard worked with the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to determine guidelines to remove a liquor store's license, if necessary, to convince the business to pay taxes.

"We got the attention of one liquor store, and they went online that night and paid their taxes. They didn't want us to shut down their business," she said.

A variety of businesses have unpaid taxes.

"A bakery hasn't paid taxes in seven years. A discount cigarette store is $20,000 behind in taxes. Some of the businesses try to beat the system or find a way around the system," Harrison said.

If a business ignores paying taxes, its credit rating can be reduced, she said.

"We've heard stories saying the CPA (certified public accountant) hasn't taken care of it. They say their wife or husband was supposed to take care of it," Sinyard said.

"We're trying to be fair in taxes," she said.

"If the business forgot to pay their taxes, we send a soft letter to remind them to pay their taxes," Sinyard said.

The second letter is "more stern." The final option is to put a lock on the business' door, but "we haven't taken it that far," Sinyard said.

"You live, pay taxes and die. We give plenty of notice to pay their taxes," she said.

If a business continues to ignore its delinquent taxes, state law allows county officials to conduct a public auction at the business' and sell off its taxable assets until the debt is paid.

"It would be extreme, and no one wants to do that," Sinyard said.

"We have been doing well in collecting delinquent taxes, and we are getting ready to take further steps to collect taxes from some businesses that just will not pay," Harrison said.

For the month ending Feb. 28, 2017, the total amount collected was $21,791.24. The total amount collected since May 16, 2016, is $243,140.53, Harrison said in a report to the Quorum Court.

The collectors also have sympathy for taxpayers.

"An elderly woman's husband died and he had been taking care of the taxes. After he died, she was unsure about the procedures to pay their taxes. She got a small loan so she could pay the taxes. She was worried about her taxes," Harrison said, who cried along with Sinyard while recalling the incident.

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