County May Write Off $335K In Biz Tax Debt

SNOW HILL – Before writing off
$335,000 in unpaid business taxes from the last several years, the Worcester
County Commissioners instructed staff to explore further options for recovering
that money.

“You’re supposed to bring us
money, not lose money,” Virgil Shockley, president of the County Commissioners,
joked Tuesday morning.

Harold Higgins, Worcester County
Finance Officer, answered, “For us in county government, it’s kind of a wash.”

Over the last seven years, 365
accounts owe back taxes on businesses totaling $335,400.94.

Thirty percent of the entire
write-off amount belongs to just four entities, with the largest amount, owed
by Brown Forest Resources LLC, reaching $55,145.12. B & R Wood Products,
Inc., owes $18,821.04, Mark Andrew Jurist owes $11,796.55, and Liberty
Enterprise, LLC, owes $11,117.30. 

The cost of recovering the
unpaid taxes can mount up, Higgins said.

“It is a lot of staff time.
Sometimes it’s just not worth it having all those people do research,”
Commissioner Judy Boggs said.

Recovery of those back taxes can
be difficult because many of the businesses involved have been dissolved or
gone out of business.

Higgins said his office often
cannot attach real property in pursuit of back taxes because many businesses in
Worcester County, particularly in the resort area,
have no real property. Business space in the resort region tends to be rented,
and it can be difficult to determine the value of a store’s contents, for example.

Many of those business owners
are not local or even state residents, complicating collection efforts.

“The transient nature of the Ocean City
business doesn’t lend itself to that process,” Higgins said.

If a company is liquidated, Worcester County takes a loss.

Another issue is the rental of
condominiums and houses to vacationers.

“I don’t have a very good
tracking system for rental units,” Higgins said.

Higgins suggested offering an
amnesty or some kind of relief to collect some of the outstanding tax bills.

“That’s a lot of money to walk
away from,” said Commissioner Bobby Cowger. “That would have paid for what we
gave the Board of Education.”

Higgins suggested shaming
delinquent business owners by posting their names on the Internet.

“Nobody wants their name blasted
across the paper or on the web,” Higgins said.

County attorney Sonny Bloxom
suggested creating a more timely collection policy. Some of the outstanding
taxes date back to 2000-2001.

“You’ve got to be more proactive
in trying to get this money,” Bloxom said.

“In my business, I’d be going
after that money,” Cowger said.

While it may not be worth going
after the smaller amounts, Shockley said, the county does not want to set a
precedent. If one person gets away with not paying their business taxes, then
the next person will try to get away with it, and the amounts start adding up,
he said.

“It’s looking for a needle in a
haystack,” said Higgins.

If staffers can get only
$150,000 of the outstanding tax debt back, that is money that the county does
not now have, Shockley said.

The commissioners voted
unanimously to have Higgins look into alternatives and present elected
officials with a report on each.

“Take a look at it,” Shockley