If tax-assistance programs were like a Major League baseball player, Bradley County Trustee Mike Smith would be swinging for his 2,000th career hit sometime close to the end of next season.
But this is not baseball, and it is about taxes.
By the end of business last Friday, Smith and his innovative staff had enrolled parcel No. 1,845 in the taxpayer-friendly partial payment program. That means in two enrollment periods for 2020 property taxes — from late October to early December 2019, and from early January to early February 2020 — the staff had signed up another 151 parcels.
When partial payment enrollment for 2021 property taxes opens — later this year in October — it means the 10-year-old program will be only 155 parcels (or, hits) shy of the 2,000 mark; taking into account, of course, the expected loss of a few participants over the next eight months due to mortality or who voluntarily leave the program.
“We had another very successful year of enrolling citizens in our partial payment plan,” Smith told the Cleveland Daily Banner. “Plus, we continued to sign up enrollees for two other popular programs, the tax-relief and tax-freeze plans.”
In fact, registration continues for tax relief and tax freeze. Enrollment in those two income-based initiatives will close on April 6.
A look at the three primary tax programs offered through the Trustee’s Office shows how each continues to grow. The numbers include:
• Partial payment: Another 151 signees since last October has grown the total number of participants to 1,845;
• Tax relief: An additional 84 registrants since October has increased participation to 1,543; and
• Tax freeze: Some 78 more enrollees since October have beefed up the program’s count to 1,296.
For now, the partial payment program numbers are entrenched; at least, until enrollment resumes. The tax-relief and tax-freeze amounts will continue to grow for the next couple of months, at which time sign-up will stop for the current tax season.
“Enrollment in those two programs will stop at the end of the business day on April 6,” Smith said. “That’s a drop-dead date, as set by the state.”
Reflecting on the close of another enrollment season for partial payment, Smith said he and his staff see the initiative as a life-changer for many Bradley County residents, especially the elderly who find it more and more difficult to make ends meet on their Social Security income and whatever savings or pensions they managed to put away during their working years.
“We have quite a few citizens who enroll in partial payment for the ease of not having to pay the full amount at one time, but we have so very many … so very, very many, who can’t pay their tax bill in the conventional once-a-year, lump-sum,” Smith said. “These are the local citizens we are trying our best to reach with programs like partial payment, as well as with tax relief and tax freeze; at least, for those who are eligible.”
Unlike the tax-relief and tax-freeze initiatives, partial payment is not income-based. Anyone can sign up for the partial payment program, especially those living on fixed incomes.
“The whole idea behind partial payment is to make life a little easier for our citizens,” Smith said. “That’s why, for both my staff and for me, we are so proud to be able to offer this kind of assistance. Remember, citizens are still paying their taxes. They’re meeting their full tax obligation. They’re just doing it by way of making smaller installment payments.”
Instead of making the once-a-year, lump-sum payment, taxpayers are making smaller tax payments, such as on a monthly, quarterly or biannual basis.
“The taxes are getting paid,” Smith said. “Citizens who need this kind of plan are simply spreading the payments over the course of a full year.”
Launched in 2010, the program is actually the brainchild of the taxpayers themselves.
“As I’ve said many times, it is the taxpayers who came to us in 2010, and before, asking if we could provide any options in payment frequency,” Smith said. “Frankly, their idea became a no-brainer. We just had to devise a way to set it up.”
With the blessings of the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office and the Bradley County Commission, the partial payment program was born 10 years ago and has continued to grow.
“We started with a modest goal,” the trustee stressed. “Hoping to sign up 500 parcels within five years was our aim. Boy, did we get a lesson. We reached 500 enrollees in three years. It was a true breakthrough moment for our taxpayers.”
Another way of putting it might be this: Without planning to swing for the fences, Smith and the Trustee’s Office staff still hit a home run. And the ball is still soaring.
Questions about any tax programs, or other services provided by the Trustee’s Office, can be directed to 423-728-7247. Drop-in visitors are always welcome.
Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday.
The Trustee’s Office permanent location is 1701 Keith St., which is the former SouthEast Bank building at the corner of Keith and 17th. Exterior signage identifies the structure, and parking is ample.
Also located inside the building is a drive-through for automobile tag and handicapped placard renewals. It is operated by two staff members from the office of Bradley County Clerk Donna Simpson.
Tag renewals are done only through the drive-through, and not from inside the building.
Full county clerk services are also provided in the ground-floor office in the Bradley County Courthouse.