County seeks $1 million in back taxes

By Tonya Garner: Freedom Newspapers

The computer printout of delinquent taxpayers in Curry County is an inch thick and 119 pages long — which constitutes roughly 1 percent of property owners.

Among them, they are responsible for 10 percent of the county tax role — or a little more than $1 million.

Curry County Manager Dick Smith said although the percentage of delinquent taxpayers is low, it is still inexcusable.

“If 99 percent of people can pay their taxes,” Smith said, “then the other 1 percent certainly can, too.”

Curry County Treasurer Rhonda Bookout said she is taking a more aggressive approach to collecting taxes, which were due in full May 10. She said she’s even taking the unprecedented step of turning cases over to the county attorney for collection.

“We (treasurer’s office) are actively pursuing collecting the funds,” Bookout said. “Four cases have been turned over for collection and one has paid their bill in full.”

The treasurer’s office is also making phone calls and sending out letters as collection methods.

“I have an employee that spends all day calling people and setting up payment plans,” Bookout said. “She is very tactful and wants to help everyone.”

Bookout has also initiated an online payment option to make it more convenient for taxpayers to remit.

“We have lots of options for payment,” Bookout said.

Smith said he supports Bookout’s aggressive approach to collecting the funds, although he recognizes the county will never collect 100 percent of taxes and this year is not much different from the past.

“I agree with the treasurer’s methods,” Smith said, “because that tax money could be used for infrastructure improvements such as roads or the fairgrounds.”

Bookout said her office staff are highlighting the punishment portion of the delinquent notices before they mail them out.

“People come in really mad,” Bookout said. “They come in to the office and tell me I can’t do that.”

The treasurer said she is not trying to threaten people but is trying to get them to realize the consequences of nonpayment.

“We (Treasurer’s office) don’t want to see anyone lose their house,” Bookout said, “but people need to pay their bills.”

If owed taxes become more than two years’ delinquent, then the account is transferred to the state of New Mexico for collection.

According to New Mexico statute, the property will then be sold at a public auction. The statute also states anyone who willfully attempts to evade payment can be charged with a fourth-degree felony, which includes penalties of up to a $5,000 fine and five years in prison.