The school board in Mississippi’s fourth-largest city is looking at increasing property taxes at the same time its home county is experiencing a dramatic increase in delinquent property tax payments.
The Hattiesburg School Board met in early August to approve an amended budget that will require a tax rate increase it says is needed to help compensate for artificially low city tax rates in 2009-10 and state budget cuts to education. The exact proposed increase is unclear, but is expected to be equivalent to about $60 more on a home valued at $200,000, local NBC affiliate WDAM-TV reported.
The day before the school board’s action, Lamar County Tax Collector James Patterson released a list of 2,800 private homes, vacant lots and even a funeral home that will be auctioned off if back taxes aren't paid. This year’s number is more than 55% higher than the 1,000 delinquent tax statements the office usually issues, Patterson told the Clarion-Ledger newspaper of Jackson.
If those back taxes aren’t paid by Aug. 27, the properties will go up for sale to the highest bidder three days later. The original owner, however, still retains the property rights for another two years, with interest accruing at 1.5% per month. If the taxes remain unpaid on the last Friday of August in 2012, the highest bidder from the auction may pay the debt to become the new owner.
Here’s a thought: rather than raise taxes on many property owners who dutifully pay their taxes on time, perhaps the county should reform the tax collection process that enables property owners to stretch out the process as long as 32 months (from the time they receive their tax bills)?
Mississippi is one of 37 states that collects property taxes at both the state and local levels, according to the Washington, D.C.-bases Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax research group, with local government entities collecting the most by far. Mississippi's localities collected about $700 per capita in property taxes in fiscal year 2006, (the most-recent figures available), according to the foundation. At the state level, Mississippi collected about $15 per capita during that year, which means its total annual per-capita property tax of about $715 ranks 41st nationally.