Delinquent taxes contribute to city budget shortfall

A shortfall in the amount of current and delinquent property tax collections and a month’s delay in the receipt of its share of the state local option sales taxes have contributed to a short fall in the city of Bamberg’s year end budget numbers.

“What’s going on,” City of Bamberg Clerk/Treasurer Bruce Watson told members of city council he kept asking himself. “I’ve been watching it for the last couple of months,” Watson added referring to- two line items in the budget that refers to property taxes current and delinquent taxes.

Property taxes, both current and delinquent were projected to amount to a total of $560,000 of revenue for the city. The city actually took in $538,000 in property taxes which represents a shortfall of $21,000 in city property taxes due. Watson said he was not sure what the figures in the delinquent tax office would be at this time, but hoped to hear something in the next two weeks.

“I don’t know what the figure is going to be in the delinquent tax office,” Watson said noting that there was some “trouble” in the delinquent tax office that county officials were trying to reconcile. “We’re down some, I didn’t want to see what kind of figure they would come back with in the delinquent tax office so we could get a handle on what’s going on,” Watson added.

Bamberg County Administrator Rose Dobson- Elliott, when contacted on Monday defended the work of the personnel in the County’ Delinquent Tax Office said, “They are working viciously, very hard.”

The county administrator said the delinquent tax office, which until recently had only been staffed by one person now has two people getting ready for the next tax sale. She said after the final due date in March, the delinquent tax office collects very little money. Most of the money the department collects is from November through April of each year.

The next large amount of revenue is anticipated when the delinquent taxes are posted and are published in the newspaper. Dobson Elliott said after the taxes are collected she is not sure when the county treasurer’s office writes the check.

The City of Bamberg had projected budget revenues of $1,936,364 to come in last fiscal year. At the end of June the city had only collected $1,790,475 which represented a shortfall of $145,889. After using $30,000 that was originally budgeted for its reserve fund, the shortfall was reduced to approximately $115,000.

To complicate the city’s budget woes even more, now in the second week in July and the city had not received its share of the state’s local option sales tax for May. Watson noted that he has been on the phone the last two weeks trying to talk with state treasurer officials about the situation to no avail.

“We need the money to come on in, we’re out $80,000” Watson said adding that the city would stay on top of the matter. Clerk Watson noted that the city faced an even greater problem in the future in replacing its dwindling revenue stream. He said when he first came in as the city’s clerk/treasurer the city was able to put money in the reserve fund, but not anymore.

“What I’m telling you is that our revenue stream is shrinking every year and there are only two ways to get it straight. Either you cut cost or raise millage are about the only two ways, we’re going to make these changes,” Watson said. Adding, when it comes to increasing taxes, “we shoot ourselves in the foot because we’re going to lose jobs. Even if the state’s economy improves in the long run, revenue is not going to pick up, it’s not going to happen,” he said.

Watson said that he has observed delinquent taxes rise over the years from $40,000 to over $200,000 and back down to $180,000 last year just in the City of Bamberg and $ 1 million dollars in delinquent taxes (not in assessed value but actual money) for the county “money that should have come into the county and the city.”

He said the City of Bamberg raised millage last year by three mills hoping to bring in an extra $15,000 to $16,000 which did not happen adding a millage increase carries the possibility of job losses.

He concluded by saying that the city of Bamberg would need to do some “real smart thinking” down the road, even considering consolidating some programs in order to save money and work closely with the Commissioners of the Board of Public Works (BPW’s) “for the good of the citizens of Bamberg.”