Pay your property taxes by Jan. 31 ... or else

Area residents who haven’t paid their property taxes have until the end of the month to ante up their 2012 tabs or face penalties and interest, according to local officials.Area property owners can avoid the annual last-minute dash to pay their taxes by getting them out of the way early in the month, said former County Tax Assessor Kathy Sayles.“Once the taxes go delinquent the first of February, the penalties and interest start at 7 percent and increases each month,” said Sayles. “As of July 1, penalty and interest grows to 18 percent, with an additional penalty tacked on for attorney fees.”Approximately 36,000 to 37,000 tax statements were mailed out in October, according to Sayles, and area residents who aren’t sure how much they owe can get that information over the phone or in person at the tax office.“Some individuals don’t get their statement for whatever reason,” said Sayles. “We can pull up their name on the system and tell them the amount that’s due. So if you haven’t received a statement, call us or come by the office. Some people, because of their homestead exemptions, have no taxes, so we don’t send them a notice. However, if they just want to make sure everything is OK, all they have to do is call.“They can reference their check with an account number that we can give them so they can get their payment in the mail. Once that’s done, we mail them back a receipt for their payment.”For taxpayers over the age of 65 or currently on disability, Sayles said there is a special plan that can help them avoid penalties and interest, which can quickly add up.“There is a provision that allows taxpayers over the age of 65 to pay their taxes in four installments without any penalties or interest,” said Sayles. “You make your first payment in January, then you just make the remaining three payments in April, June and Aug. 1. This is for people 65 and older or are receiving disability.”Taxpayers will notice one change when they pay their bill this year, as the elected official the check is made out to has changed.Effective Tuesday, Diane Carter took over as tax assessor for Howard County. Payments should be made out in her name.”Carter was elected to the office in November after Sayles, who has served as county tax assessor for many years, decided not to run for re-election.The tax penalty and interest schedule is as follows: After Jan. 31, 6 percent penalty and 1 percent interest; after Feb. 28, 7 percent penalty and 2 percent interest; after March 31, 8 percent penalty and 3 percent interest; after April 30, 9 percent penalty and 4 percent interest; after May 31, 10 percent penalty and 5 percent interest; and after June 30, 12 percent penalty and 6 percent interest, including an additional 20 percent attorney fee.“Just remember, we go by the postmark on the envelope,” said Sayles. “As long as it's postmarked by the deadline, you're OK.”For more information, contact the Howard County Tax Collector’s Office at 264-2232.