A shining example of the elected listening to the electorate is the 12-month partial payment plan for property taxes, the brainchild of Bradley County Trustee Mike Smith which is now entering its third year.
Smith is credited with keeping an open ear to the needs of taxpayers who were struggling to make one-time, lump sum tax payments each year. As the U.S. economy began its nosedive in 2007 and 2008, many area residents approached the popular trustee asking for options, just anything that might free them from the burden of single payment chunks that ranged from the hundreds to the thousands of dollars.
Smith not only listened, he took action.
As required by law, he began working with the state comptroller’s office which has oversight for counties wishing to explore such a partial payment plan. The details were worked and the proposal was taken to the Bradley County Commission whose members were quick to embrace the concept.
In its first year in 2011, the partial payment plan included 202 Bradley County property owners whose taxes accounted for about $130,000. In 2012, the numbers grew to 408 parcels with projected collections of $210,000. Now in its third year, the figure is already 422 participants for 2013 property taxes.
The forward-thinking trustee believes the original goal of 500 parcels within five years will be reached in the third year.
Enrollment for the program for 2013 is well under way and will continue through Dec. 14. A second enrollment period will be honored Jan. 2, 2013, through Feb. 8, 2013. For those participating in the 12-month plan, the first payment will be due March 15, 2013.
For those already enrolled in the program from the previous two years, you will not be required to re-enroll for 2013. Unless you inform the Trustee’s Office otherwise, it will be understood that you desire to continue paying your property taxes on the 12-month installment basis.
Some program participants choose to make their payments through checks in the mail or by personal visit to the Bradley County Courthouse office. Others use an electronic bank draft system in which their monthly amount is paid each month automatically. Some 60 percent of the plan participants use the electronic system.
Some choose to pay the same amount each month in order to have the total taxes due paid up by year’s end; others pay uneven installments until the total amount owed is met.
In a perfect world, every Cleveland and Bradley County property owner would have the means of making a single tax payment once each year.
But these are imperfect times and many families continue to struggle through this trying recession. For these blue-collar workers, paying their property taxes is just like buying the weekly groceries or purchasing fuel for their thirsty vehicles. Both come regularly and each is an expensive line item on the household budget.
In past editions of this newspaper, we have lauded the 12-month partial payment plan. Such an opportunity rests also with delinquent property taxes. Both plans are examples of a government that listens. Each is a testament to the value of innovation, especially when deployed at the behest of taxpayers in need.
No single age group, no respective class and no specific individuals make best use of these options. All demographics are involved. Each is a recipient of flexible government thinking and open-minded leadership in a Courthouse office where it is needed most.
Mike Smith’s creativity in bringing this program to Bradley County — and keeping it alive — is proof that people and their government can get along.
All it takes is an open door, two-way communication, a willingness to listen and a commitment to make a difference.
Bradley County’s trustee, and his capable staff, are giving this community a lot of each.
We applaud their efforts. We like their thinking.