Economy reflected in late taxes from developers

May. 26, 2013 @ 08:27 AM

A small group of property owners accounts for a large portion of the slightly more than $2 million in unpaid property taxes Caldwell County still is trying to collect.

As of January, the property owner facing the largest amount of unpaid taxes was Phoenix Rising Development LLC, which owed the county about $183,000 on slightly more than 115 undeveloped lots that are part of a subdivision that has changed ownership in recent years. The initial developer, Blue Ridge at Blowing Rock LLC, which also was listed as owing the county about $10,000, sought to build that subdivision in the northern end of the county in the mid-2000s, he said. Another real estate investor, Waterfront Group Inc., based in Huntersville, has since taken over an unspecified amount of those properties, Woods said.

The amount owed by Phoenix Rising is unusual, county tax administrator Monty Woods said.

“I don’t think we’ve seen that here yet,” he said.

The county tax office in past years has rarely seen more than $40,000 to $50,000 owed by a single developer, he said.

Other developers with a large amount of late taxes include John’s Gamewell LLC, which owes nearly $67,000 on more than 75 properties, and the Bluffs at Wilson Creek LLC, whose 30 properties have a total of more than $20,500 owed in back taxes.

The higher-than-usual amounts of unpaid taxes from large developers reflect a relatively stagnant housing market.

“With the economic downturn, people are sitting on a lot of lots,” Woods said. “There’s not a lot of building going on.”

The number of tax-delinquent properties in the county is about 5,700 this year, down from slightly more than 7,000 last year. In some cases, though, dozens of such properties are owned by a single developer, Woods said.

The county this year levied nearly a total of $32.5 million in taxes on the 52,000 properties across the county, and the county has collected nearly 95 percent of that, Woods said. In recent years, it generally took until the end of the fiscal year, at the end of June, to reach 95 percent.

"You're never going to collect 100 percent, typically," Woods said, adding payments continue trickling into the tax office daily.  Still, "I feel like we're doing pretty well."

THE FIVE PROPERTY OWNERS WHO HAD THE LARGEST UNPAID TAX BILLS

The five property owners who have the largest unpaid tax bill:

1.  Phoenix Rising Development LLC, about $183,000

2.  Johns Gamewell LLC, nearly $67,000

3.  Mark Terry, more than $41,000

4.  Larry James Griffin, more than $25,000

5.  The Bluffs of Wilson Creek LLC, about $20,500