“We started out with a goal back in 2011 of 500 in five years,” Bradley County Trustee Mike Smith said. “The first year we had 202 and the amount that was collected and put on the county’s books ... was $130,000. In 2012 we had 408 parcels in the program... and we’re projecting $210,000.”
Interest in the 12-month payment option is expected to increase with 422 parcels already signed up for the program for next year, Smith said.
Enrollment for this program for 2013 property taxes is open until Dec. 14.
Smith projects that the department will reach its goal of having 500 parcels by the end of enrollment for the 2013 program.
“We’ve put a lot of different things, a lot changes in the trustee’s office, trying to help the taxpayer and make it easier for them,” Smith said. “We get more positive comments on it than anything we do.”
The program has appeal to a wide range of county tax payers. Smith said there is not one age group that has embraced the program over another.
“All demographics use the 12-month payment plan,” Smith said. “And all of them seem to be pretty happy with it.”
Deputy trustee David Swallows said taxpayers decide how much they want to pay. He said those on the 12-month plan taking advantage of the bank draft option are required to have equal payments each month and are required to ensure the entire amount will be paid off in February of the following year. Those not on the bank draft option are encouraged to have equal payments to pay it off on time; however, taxpayers have the option to pay different amounts and then pay the remaining amount before the February due date, Swallows pointed out.
He said approximately 60 percent of those who use the 12-month payment plan have the money taken directly out of their account by the Trustee’s Office. This has remained true from the start of the program three years ago. Payments can also be made through the mail or in person at the Trustee’s Office.
Once taxpayers have signed up for the 12-month payment plan, they are kept on the program until they tell the Trustee’s Office that they want to make a change. Taxpayers do not need to re-enroll in the program.
Money from the 12-month payment plan is not available to the county as revenue until property taxes for that year are payable in October, according to Smith. He said this money accumulates in a fund and then is released to the county.The 12-month payment plan is based on the residents’ current taxes to estimate the amount due for the following year.
A second enrollment period for 2013 property taxes will be held Jan. 2, 2013, through Feb. 8, 2013. The first payment in the program is due March 15, 2013.
Enrollment for the 12-month program must be completed in the Trustee’s Office located in the Bradley County Courthouse. Smith said the process takes about five minutes, and all the needed information for enrollment can be accessed in their system. Those wanting to have payments withdrawn directly from their accounts will need to bring in a voided check.
The partial payment plans grew out of continued requests for payment options.
“As the economy got worse around 2007-2008, we were just covered up with people coming to me and asking me was there some way they could make payments instead of having to come up with it all at one time,” Smith said. “At that time we didn’t have anything so we started working with the state comptroller’s office and were able to get approval from them, which you have to do to set up the program.”
All the partial payment options were also approved by the Bradley County Commission before being implemented.
“It was not something we had set out as a goal to do,” Smith said.
The trustee’s office also offers taxpayers the opportunity to make partial payments for current and delinquent property taxes.
Delinquent taxes are kept in the Trustee’s Office for 13 months after they are delinquent. When this time is up, the parcels are turned over to the clerk and master’s office.
The partial payment plans have brought a slight decrease in the number of parcels that reach this point, according to Smith.
Although many counties in Tennessee offer partial payment options, Bradley County was one of the first.
“We’ve assisted other counties in setting up the same program,” Smith said.