JEFFERSON-Could the wife of a sitting county commissioner score a brand new position in the county’s tax department? Maybe.
That news follows discussions this week with Ashe County Manager Sam Yearick.
The Jefferson Post sat down with Yearick Tuesday after it was provided with multiple anonymous emails – and at least one handwritten letter – which claim that two spouses of serving county commissioners could throw their hat in the ring for a chance at becoming the county’s new delinquent tax collection specialist.
The role, which would entail collecting some $4-$6 million in back taxes owed to the county, would require someone willing to consistently track down delinquent property owners and work out payment agreements.
Yearick said the job would take a motivated individual and he’s looking for the best person for the job.
When asked about the anonymous letter and if the county’s search might include a commissioner’s spouse, Yearick said he couldn’t say who might end up filling the position.
“The biggest thing about this position will be you’ve got to want to do it. Ok,” Yearick said. “That is the biggest thing with this is you have to – it will be a position where you will have to do something to earn a paycheck because we will be expecting a return on it.”
Job now open
The job posting for the position became available this week, Yearick said, and can be viewed at ashecounty.gov/careers. It’s officially titled a delinquent accounts and enforced collections specialist, and Yearick said the pay for the full time position will likely fall between $36,900 and $38,000 per year.
According to the job posting, the position’s responsibilities includes:
•Updating and maintaining the county’s delinquent tax collections database
•Preparing and mailing garnishments, levies and attachments
•Submitting delinquent accounts to the North Carolina Department of Revenue to be included in its debt set-off program and filing claims with the NCDOR
•Follow NCDOR procedures to secure the monies by asserting rights to refunds and acting as an advisor to tax office staff on matters relating to debt set-off
•And preparing reports to keep tax staff and county administration updated on the state of back tax collection, among other duties.
If you’re interested in applying, contact the NCWorks Career Center at 626 Ashe Central School Road in Jefferson. Deadline for applications is Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016 at 4 p.m.
But can family apply?
Yearick said there’s nothing in county ordinances or guidelines which would prevent a commissioner’s family member – including a spouse – from filling the new position.
The county’s personnel policy does place limits on the employment of relatives in departments. Two members of an immediate family can’t be employed in the same administrative department at the same time, for instance.
And family members can’t be placed in a supervisory role over other their immediate family according to personnel guidelines either, Yearick said.
But despite being paid for their service, Yearick said commissioners are not county employees. That means if the county hired one of the five commissioners’ immediate family members, the move wouldn’t violate standing policy, according to Yearick.
“We’re looking for the best person we can find to take this on,” Yearick said. “Because, frankly, it’s not going to be an easy job.”
Do we even need a new position?
Uncollected back taxes have long been an issue the Ashe County Board of Commissioners and Yearick have wanted to address.
Ashe County Tax Administrator Keith Little told commissioners earlier this month the county is owed somewhere around $4.3 million in delinquent taxes, a figure that takes into account all unpaid taxes and accrued interest over a 10-year span.
And Yearick said at least some county property owners have failed to make a tax payment in decades. In at least one case, the owner of 16-acres of land on Horse Creek owes the county thousands and hasn’t made a payment since 1985, Yearick said.
Turns out, that property owner died in the mid-1980s which Yearick discovered only after finding a decades old obituary in the New York Times.
In another instance, Yearick said a property owner had apparently abandoned a $10,000-parcel after he sold his California-based software company and moved to Israel.
But while Yearick said Tuesday Little and staff have made great gains in collecting those outstanding taxes, there’s still room to improve.
Yearick said the county’s annual tax collection rate hovers somewhere between 94.5-95 percent. Other counties collect a larger percentage of taxes owed Yearick said, and Ashe County likely ranks among the bottom 10 counties statewide when it comes to the percentage of tax money it leaves uncollected.
“The average statewide might be closer to 96 percent,” Yearick said. “And we’ve got a lot of things we’re looking at in the future. A new middle school might cost us somewhere between $25-$30 million. If we’ve got millions in back taxes hanging out there, we need to do what we can to collect that.”
Yearick said the county would be well served in this case to “invest” the money in the new hire.
“This is going to be measured as a return on our investment,” Yearick said. “We don’t have an exact dollar figure goal outlined for this just yet – state collectors were expected to bring in $1 million per year, though – but this is something we’ve needed for a long time and should help us put a dent in this number.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058.