September 06, 2012
So here's what happened to me
Not long ago, I misplaced a few bills. I looked everywhere but I couldn't find them. I didn't worry about it too much because I pay almost everything online so it was easy for me to go to Wellsfargo.com and check to see what bills I needed to pay.
Now, let me give a little background before I go on. I always say that I am "a two-car family without the family part," because I have two cars a Mazda RX-8 and an old Toyota Camry but I'm not married and I don't have any kids that I know about.
Now, apparently, the Guilford County Tax Department had sent me a bill for my Camry a bill that must have been in the misplaced pile. Anyway, it turns out that that bill was for $29.67 due on May 1, 2012, for the property tax on my 1994 Toyota Camry.
Sometime in mid-June, the Guilford County Tax Department sent me a second bill for the $29.67, and that bill said, "Interest begins 06/01/2012."
That bill said I now owed an additional $1.48, so the grand total, with interest, was $31.15. I kept the part of the bill that said, "Please return this portion with your payment" and I put it with some other bills I needed to pay.
On Thursday, July 5, I was paying bills and, when I got to the tax bill for the Camry, it hit me that a few days extra of interest may have accumulated since they had sent the bill out. I didn't want to send in the $31.15 and then get a bill saying, for instance, that I owed another 12 cents in interest, requiring me to send in another check for the 12 cents or whatever.
So I called the Guilford County Tax Department. I gave them the bill number and told them I was mailing it in, and I asked if there was any additional interest I needed to add to the check. The woman figured it up and she gave me the amount it was like 20 or 30 cents more. So I wrote that down and I made out a check for the total amount: $31 and change. That was on the morning of July 5.
The next day Friday, July 6 my doorbell rang, which is highly unusual for a Friday morning. I looked out to see who it was. It was my mail carrier and, when I opened the door, she told me she had a registered letter I needed to sign for.
I opened the envelope and took the letter out. It looked extremely official: It had the county seal on top and the letterhead said "Guilford County Tax Department."
Under that, across the page, in big letters it said, "NOTICE OF ATTACHMENT & GARNISHMENT."
It listed my name, YOST, SCOTT DAYVAULT" and it said GARNISHEE: HAMMER PUBLICATIONS, INC," which is the parent company for The Rhinoceros Times.
It began, "The person owing or having in his possession wages, rents, bank deposits, debts or other property of the taxpayer sought to be attached (hereinafter called the Garnishee)
"Each of you will take notice that pursuant to sections 105-366 and 105-368 of the North Carolina General Statutes authorizing the attachment and garnishment of wages, rents, bank deposits, proceeds of property subject to levy and other intangible property
I was utterly astonished as I read the letter. I mean, I was just blown away: Guilford County government was bringing the full force of its authority down on me, garnishing my wages, to collect the $30 in taxes on my second car.
In my entire life, I've never heard of anything like that happening.
I mean, it was 30 bucks that had just become past due. And when I had called the day before to tell them I was sending it in with the 20 or 30 cents of additional interest, the woman I talked to hadn't given me any indication that I was about to become Public Enemy Number One on the very next day.
None of it made any sense to me.
Now, I have no evidence that the county was singling me out for some reason, but I would be lying if I said that that never occurred to me. Some people in Guilford County government are very displeased with what I report so, naturally, I did wonder if that could have something to do with the county bringing the full weight and force of its power down on me like a sledgehammer.
Also, in addition to the $30 I owed, the county had now added a $60 legal fee to my bill for the garnishment letter creating what was essentially a 200 percent penalty for a $30 tax bill that was two months past due.
When I got to work, my boss John Hammer called me into his office and said that he had gotten a letter from the Guilford County Tax Department saying that they were going to garnish my wages. He showed me the letter and I told him I was aware of the situation and I said I had received a similar letter.
I called the Guilford County Tax Department and I said, look, I have a $30 tax bill that I just called you about yesterday, and you have a $60 penalty on it and are about to garnish my wages. The woman said she couldn't help me, there was nothing I could do, and I needed to pay the $90.
I told her I felt like something was amiss, and she asked me if I wanted to speak with a supervisor. I said that I did. A few minutes later, her supervisor told me there was nothing he could do about it either.
The Tax Department is just two blocks away from The Rhinoceros Times office and I know Ben Chavis, the tax director, pretty well. So I walked the two blocks to the Independence Center and I took the elevator up to the fifth floor and asked if I could talk to Ben. The receptionist said he wasn't in that day. She asked me if I would like to speak with the assistant tax director.
I said I would and I went into his office and showed him all the paperwork and told him what had happened. He said I would need to talk to Ben, who, he said, would be back on Monday.
I said, "Well, if I wait until Monday to pay this, will the Tax Department have me arrested?"
"No," he said.
And I said, "Are you sure? Because this bill is for $30 that's barely past due and the Tax Department is garnishing my wages."
He assured me I would not be hauled off to jail if I waited until Monday to speak with Ben.
On Monday, I called Guilford County Tax Director Ben Chavis. He said he didn't know about the garnishment of my wages until his staff told him after I had come down there on Friday. He also said he could assure me that the Guilford County Tax Department was not "head hunting" in case that's what I was thinking.
Now, in addition to being tax director, Ben is an ordained minister and, if he says he didn't know about it well, I believe him. Like everyone else that I had talked to, Ben said that there was nothing I could do about the $60 fee, so I would have to pay the $90.
I said fine and I went down to the Tax Department and paid it that afternoon, but I still had all sorts of questions.
I told Ben a few days later that maybe the Tax Department should have someone who makes phone calls in cases where someone owes a minor amount that's a short period of time past due.
He said the department does call people in that situation.
I said, "Well, no one called me."
I had other questions as well. I asked, "Ben, if I had owed $1.10, would you have garnished my wages then?"...continued on page 2