The cost of government this year shouldn't be the shocker it was a year ago, when reassessment and increases in school levies dramatically boosted property taxes.
Cape Girardeau County Collector Diane Diebold and her staff are preparing to send out about 35,000 tax bills, with the first batch expected to be mailed this Friday and the rest by early next week. All taxpayers should have their tax bills by Nov. 18, if not sooner, she said.
Even though bills have yet to be mailed, some taxpayers have already asked what their bills are and have paid them. Diebold said her office began collecting taxes Friday. Taxes are due by Dec. 31.
In all, county taxpayers owe $37.3 million, or $317,000 more than a year ago, Diebold said. In contrast, taxes owed were up more than $6 million in 2001.
Diebold said the minimal increase this year is because the locally assessed value of personal property and real estate countywide dropped by more than $2.5 million, with most of that being in personal property.
"This year, there is no growth," she said.
The assessed value of residential property increased by $12.4 million, but personal property values declined by $14.3 million. Assessed values of farm property dropped by nearly $67,000, county records show.
Diebold said part of the drop in personal property valuations was due to a tax break on equipment at the Procter & Gamble plant and the shutting down of a production line at BioKyowa.
Since assessed values didn't go up, 16 of 32 taxing entities raised their levies since August, many by only fractions of a cent.
The total assessed value in Cape Girardeau County stands at over $743 million.
Two bills in Oak Ridge
Diebold's office collects taxes for everything from school districts to rural fire districts, road districts to cities. Every city but Oak Ridge and Old Appleton in Cape Girardeau County lets Diebold's office collect the taxes. The county collector's office keeps 1 percent of the money collected for each taxing entity.
Marilyn Sedgwick, Oak Ridge's mayor, said she doesn't know why the city, with its population of 200, continues to collect its city tax rather than let the county collector do it. "This is terribly inefficient," she said.
Oak Ridge residents pay two tax bills, one to the county and one to the city.
There's been no deadline to pay city taxes in past years, with some residents paying their taxes as late as April or May of the next year without penalty, she said.
Turning the task over to the county collector makes sense, she said. "I plan to look into it," said Sedgwick.
The city will have to collect its own taxes this year because county tax bills already have been prepared without the Oak Ridge city tax on them.
Even though real estate wasn't reassessed this year, Diebold said her office can count on hearing from disgruntled taxpayers. "We always get nasty notes," she said.
Joe Burton, 62, of Cape Girardeau is upset by what he sees as unreasonably high taxes.
He had to pay $1,800 in real estate and personal property taxes in 2001, up from $1,100 in 2000.
Burton doesn't know how much he'll owe this year, but he figures it will be too much.
"Taxes are just really too high," he said. "I never hear of taxes going down."
As always, the majority of the property taxes is owed to the school districts. This year, $27.6 million is owed to seven districts combined, with most of that going to the Cape Girardeau and Jackson school systems.
Stiffer late penalties
Those taxpayers who wait until next year to pay their 2002 taxes will face a stiffer penalty than in previous years. They'll have to pay a 7 percent penalty -- 2 percent more than in the past -- plus an extra 2 percent per month up to a maximum of 18 percent, Diebold said.
For those who pay in January, that's a 9 percent charge on top of the taxes they owe, she said. The penalty and interest would total 25 percent if a bill wasn't paid by next September, she said.
Diebold said the increased penalty is the result of a new state law passed this year.
About 150 to 200 taxpayers routinely pay their tax bills late, Diebold said.
She said her office increasingly is saddled with delinquent personal property bills which go unpaid because the taxpayers no longer live in the county. "The bigger we get, the more bills we will never collect," she said.
Diebold said her office likely will get back 400 to 500 personal property tax bills from the U.S. Postal Service where no forwarding address could be found.
Last year, the tax bills were sent out and collected during the nationwide scare over anthrax-contaminated mail. Diebold and her staff wore gloves as a precaution in handling the mail last year. That won't be the case this year, she said.
For the third consecutive year, taxpayers will be able to pay their taxes by credit card. But Diebold estimated less than 500 taxpayers will charge it. Diebold said more would charge it if the county did not charge a 5 percent service fee to process credit-card payments.
335-6611, extension 123