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Rockingham County hires outside firm to help with foreclosures

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WENTWORTH, N.C. -- Rockingham County is ramping up its efforts to collect delinquent property taxes by increasing the number of properties on which it forecloses, and the county needs outside help for that.

Rockingham County employs one county attorney and three full-time employees to handle more than 3,800 past-due accounts accumulated over the last ten years.

Now the law firm of Maddrey, Etringer, Smith, Hollowell, and Toney will help begin foreclosure proceedings on 20 to 25 cases every two to three months.

According to interim tax administrator Mark McClintock, the County had tried to foreclose on just 62 properties since 2005, selling 5 properties at auction.

In most cases, McClintock said the property owner halted the foreclosure proceeding by paying up or agreeing to pay.

"It's always a last resort," McClintock said.

The problem is, property owners not paying taxes means a serious loss in revenue for the County and the cities for which it also collects taxes.

Those 3,871 cases of delinquency add up to about $3M in lost revenue. That's $3 million the county counts on, and responsible taxpayers could have to carry the load for those that can't or won't pay.

"The majority of people pay their taxes on time," McClintock said. "As we proceed into the next budget year, it's only fair that the tax payers who are paying their taxes aren't paying the share for those who are not."

Rockingham County is only legally allowed to go after 10 years of unpaid taxes. Anything more than that is lost revenue. The amount of revenue the County will not be able to go after at the end of fiscal year 2013 is $37,930.91, and that represents just 1.2 percent of the delinquent total.