At a Feb. 6 county board meeting, commissioners expressed concern that of $2.5 million in past due taxes from the 2015-16 fiscal year, only about $720,000 had been collected. During the 2014-15 fiscal year, that number was closer to $1.1 million.
Questions were raised about Matthews’ methods for collecting past due taxes, including his use of attachments — a method where employers are instructed to return a portion of late payers’ earnings to the governmental agency whose taxes have not been paid.
Matthews took office in December 2014, but the county’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30, meaning Matthews took office after former Tax Collector David Francis had still been in office half the year. According to data provided by Haywood County, in that “blended” 2014-15 fiscal year attachment actions numbered 1,396.
For the 2015-16 fiscal year — Matthews’ first full year at the helm — that number dropped to 1,064, a decline of almost 24 percent.
For 2014-15, garnishments numbered 1,404 but in 2015-16 plummeted to just 361, a decline of almost 75 percent.
And the foreclosures he says he won’t do? Well, they’re up.
In 2014-15, 164 taxpayers entered the foreclosure process; 108 paid immediately upon notification, 47 agreed to payment plans and nine were foreclosed upon. In 2015-16, 264 taxpayers entered the foreclosure process, 196 paid immediately upon notification, 62 agreed to payment plans and six were foreclosed upon as a last resort.
Halfway through the 2016-17 fiscal year, 139 taxpayers had entered the foreclosure process, putting the tax collector’s office on pace to surpass 2014-15’s 164 cases, and possibly even 2015-16’s 264 cases.
As far as Matthews’ collection rates, he’s correct in that they’re “97 percent plus.” In that blended year of 2014-15, they were 97.54 percent, but slipped to 97.28 percent in 2015-16 (the state average climbed from 98.6 to 98.91 percent, due greatly to the effects of a recovering real estate market and a new state law that forces taxpayers to pay motor vehicle fees in order to maintain a valid Department of Motor Vehicles registration card).