With just a couple of weeks left for people to get their Guilford County property taxes in on time, property owners in the county are behind where they were last year in their payments.

As of Friday, Dec. 14, county property owners still hadn’t paid 30.7 percent of the amount due the county.  Last year, by that same date, only 29.1 percent was outstanding.

While the numbers don’t look big when written as percentages, small differences come out to big dollars: With $345 million billed this year by the county’s Tax Department, the1.6 percent difference between last year and this year comes to over $5.5 million.

When the Guilford County commissioners create their budget each year, finding an extra $5.5 million to spend on county services means, all other things equal, adding more than a penny to the property tax rate.

Guilford County Tax Director Ben Chavis said this week that his office will have a better picture of what the final collection rate will be in a couple of weeks after two milestones in the property tax year have passed.  The first, he said, is December 31, since people have to get their property tax payments in by the end of the year in order to write them off on their income taxes. He added that another key date is the deadline for getting the payments in without a penalty.  In 2019, that’s Monday, Jan. 7 since the annual due date, Jan. 5, falls on a Saturday.

“Our collections will really ramp up quite a bit before the end of the year,” Chavis said.

County officials are obviously hoping that citizens are just paying later rather than not paying at all.

Guilford County Assistant Tax Director Jim Roland said he’s confident people are simply paying later these days.

“I am not in any way concerned,” he said of the lag.

Roland said it’s hard to tell about a year “until the dust settles” after the calendar year end and the early January payment deadline. He also pointed out that, in 2017 at this point in the year, the county’s collection rate was behind where it was in 2016, yet the final collection rate for 2017 ended up higher than in 2016.

He said he’s not sure why people are paying later,

In recent years, the Tax Department has had excellent collection rates, over 99 percent for every year since 2015.

The news of the property tax lag comes on the heels of news that the county, at this point in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, is short $850,000 in sales tax revenue compared to the projections made in the 2018-2019 budget.

Guilford County Budget Director Mike Halford stated this week that he hopes, in the case of sales tax revenue, it has to do with the timing at which the state is reimbursing money to organizations and other entities that are due refunds.

“Some organizations can apply for refunds of sales taxes paid,” Halford wrote in an email.

Those are entities like cities or non-profits, which pay the sales tax but then get reimbursed by the state.

“The state takes some time working through all of the requests and deducts refund amounts from the sales tax revenue it sends to counties,” Halford wrote. “Sometimes, several months of refunds can hit a single month’s sales tax allocation to the counties, distorting the revenue stream.”

Like Chavis on the property tax situation, Halford said he’ll know more once he’s able to review the final numbers for the year.