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New tax collector had to have wages garnished

fr matthewsIn a narrow upset in the Haywood County Tax Collector race last week, voters elected a man with a history of delinquent property tax bills and little experience for the job.

Mike Matthews, 35, a Republican from Maggie Valley, beat the longtime tax collector David Francis, a Democrat, by just 250 votes. 

Matthews has never owned a home or land, and so has never paid real estate property taxes. But he has been delinquent on his motor vehicle taxes multiple times in recent years, and was delinquent on mobile home property taxes over a decade ago.

In order to collect, the county has garnished wages from his paychecks twice and attached a forced collection to his bank account once.

Matthews most recent motor vehicle taxes from 2013 — owed on his own car and his wife’s car — were delinquent until a few weeks ago. He didn’t pay them until October, just prior to the election. He had late penalties on both.

“They are paid now and that’s all that matters,” Matthews said.

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Matthews said he didn’t know why his history of being delinquent on his vehicle property taxes mattered. 

“I am a normal everyday citizen that has tax bills themselves,” Matthews said.

Matthews said voters probably saw him as a person they could relate to — someone who knows what it is like to have bills pile up.

“I have got in that position myself where you have this coming in and this coming in and you say ‘What do I do? What do I do?’” Matthews said. “Do you bury your head in the sand and hope it will go away? Well, no.”

Matthews declined to speak at length about why he has been delinquent on his vehicle taxes — four times in all on both his own vehicles and his wife’s over the past four years.

He said he didn’t know he was late and that he never got the bills. County tax records show the address the bills were mailed to, however, and he confirmed that the addresses listed were ones where he receives his mail. When a tax bill is late, three letters are sent every year until it’s paid.

Matthews had also failed to pay property taxes on a mobile home under his name in 2001 and 2002. He was in Florida in college at the time, and said he had sold the mobile home before leaving, and didn’t realize he had old taxes on it

“I am not going to comment on something that happened in college because honestly I don’t remember,” Matthews said, insisting he was unaware of the back taxes.

The delinquent mobile home taxes were paid in 2011, when the county went through the legal hoops to garnish wages directly from Matthews paycheck while he was working at Harrah’s Casino.

Matthews said he is not aware of his wages being garnished. County tax records show a series of payments garnished from his paycheck at the casino over a two-month period in 2011. The records include the date of each garnishment and the amount. 

Matthews also has a civil collections suit filed against him in the Haywood County court system for an unpaid credit card.

Matthews said he didn’t know anything about the credit card bill or the civil suit. According to the court document, Matthews was one of the parties on a credit card taken out when buying furniture from Rooms To Go. There was an initial no interest period, but it wasn’t paid, and $900 in interest and late fees was racked up on top of the original $2,200 charge. Matthews’s grandmother is the other name on the credit card, but a civil claim filed by the credit card company is only against him.

Matthews said he doesn’t know anything about it and never got the civil summons about the suit earlier this year. The address listed on the court document was not his address, Matthews said after it was read to him.

Matthews has worked half a dozen jobs in the banking, mortgage, insurance and advertising sector over the past 12 years. 

Until recently, he sold radio advertising spots for Clear Channel. After graduating from college, he worked as a collections officer for a home mortgage company and then a mortgage lender. The majority of his financial experience was as a financial specialist for Wachovia in Waynesville, handling investment accounts, loans and securities.

He left that job and went to work as an insurance salesmen, and then as a VIP host at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. He had a brief stint as the general manager of Ghost Town amusement park in Maggie, although it was so brief he said it’s not worth mentioning.

Matthews has never worked in government, but was a Maggie Valley town alderman for two years. He lost his seat in the town election last fall.

 

Surprise upset

The outcome in the tax collector race surprised most in the county. Matthews admits he was even surprised he won.

“I think it was a shock for everybody,” Matthews said. 

Matthews said he was recruited to run by other conservatives in the county.

“I had no aspirations of being tax collector and I got talked into it,” Matthews said.

Now that he’s got the job, he wants it, however.

“Absolutely, I am very excited about it,” he said.

Jonnie Cure, a frequent and outspoken critic of county government, was among those who approached Matthews about running on the Republican ticket against Francis.

Cure paid the candidate registration fee of $510 on Matthews behalf to get him to run.

“It’s not that I didn’t want to pay the fee — well, obviously I didn’t want to pay the fee — but I wanted to know I had people in my corner,” Matthews said. If supporters agreed to pay his filing fee, that signaled they had buy-in to his campaign, he explained.

Cure has sparred with Francis over the years in her self-appointed county watchdog role. One of Cure’s main beefs with the current county leadership is taxes. She believes county property taxes are too high. 

Cure doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to paying her property taxes either.

She has twice been foreclosed on by the county due to a failure to pay town and county property taxes on commercial buildings in downtown Waynesville. She currently has liens filed against her for failure to pay federal small business taxes of more than $100,000 over a five-year period.

Matthews said despite the support he has gotten from Cure, and from another well-known critic of county government, Monroe Miller, he will not be their lackey on the inside.

“I appreciate everything they have done for me, but I am my own person,” Matthews said.

As a Republican, Matthews said he has been on the “opposite side of the table” as commissioners, particularly when he was on the Maggie town board. He opposed the commissioners’ idea to raise the tourism tax on motel rooms. But that’s water under the bridge.

“I have no chip on my shoulder and no preconceived notions. We don’t agree on everything, but personally I like all of them,” Matthews said. “The job shouldn’t be partisan anyway.”

How Matthews — a candidate who lost re-election to the Maggie town board, is late on his vehicle taxes, and owns no property of his own — could get elected tax collector has befuddled Democrats and Republicans.

There are some in Canton who believe some voters mistakenly voted for him thinking he was a different Mike Matthews, a popular former principal there.

But Francis said despite the largely held sentiment that the race would be a cakewalk for him, he began to have doubts as Election Day approached.

“Monday, I told my staff I would lose by 200 votes,” Francis said. “From working the polls the few days I did during early voting, it seemed people were voting a national ticket instead of really paying attention to the work that is going on here at the local level.”

But Matthews said he won on his own, despite admittedly doing no campaign advertising.

“I don’t think it had anything to do with Obama,” Matthews said.

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