Property tax bill mailings delayed

The taxman may be knocking on the door a little late this year. County Treasurer Lee Fabrizio and County Tax Assessor Ron Nicholson confirmed that property owners would be getting their property tax bills a little late.

The Treasurer's Office usually mails the bills by the end of August or the first week of September.

However, the first payment on tax bills are still due Oct. 1, said Janet Barker, chief deputy treasurer. Bills are not delinquent until December 31.

The department is not required by state statute to publish or mail bills to residents, she said, but does so to remind them.

Fabrizio said his office has gotten a few phone calls concerning when the bills were going to come out.

The reason for the tardy bills involves technical problems with the tax bill preparation software systems in the Assessor and Treasurer's Offices.

"This is the first time in a number of years that we've had problems," Nicholson said. He is hoping the bills will be out by mid-September, but he isn't too worried. Other counties don't have their tax bills out yet.

"It's nothing out of the ordinary. You typically have issues with new systems," said Mike Matthews, Mohave County Information Technology director.

In fact, the county had a harder time integrating a new tax bill system back in 1999. Before 1999, the county had to record the tax information on large spools of magnetic tape and transport them to the Department of Revenue in Phoenix. In 2000, the county installed a computerized system that would allow the information to be sent over the Internet instead of shipped to Phoenix.

The two offices have been working together to iron out some of the bugs in the systems and get the tax bills out.

In order for the county to put out a tax bill, the Assessor's Office has to send information on the assessed values of a property to the Treasurer's Office. The Treasurer's Office adds the tax rates to the system and the final property tax is computed, printed and mailed to the property owner.

The Assessor's Office recently purchased and installed a new system called Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal from Colorado Custom Ware. The system went online late last year. This is the first tax season it has been used.

According to county statues, any appraisal system purchased by the Assessor's Office has to work with the system in the Treasurer's Office.

Both Fabrizio and Nicholson said the CAMA system purchased by the Assessor's Office was designed to work with the Treasurer's system.

The problem is that the Assessor's Office program uses the same data entry computer language, American Standard Code for Information Interchange, as the Arizona Department of Revenue does.

This is not unusual, Nicholson and Fabrizio said. Almost all of the counties in the state use ASCII programs.

"Really, it's a little bit of both [problems with both programs] because both systems need a little tweaking," Nicholson said.

ASCII demands that each bit of data is entered exactly right, no extra spaces, letters or numbers, otherwise, when the information is transferred to the Treasurer's Office, errors, wrong numbers and wrong values can show up.

The two offices started testing the equipment in July and have been working out bugs ever since, said Barker.

Another issue is a large number of parcels were added to the tax rolls in 2007. The test bills run by the Treasurer's Office were using 2006 rates and parcels. The new rates weren't approved until August. The Treasurer's Office is supposed to be loading the new tax rates into the system soon.

"We both agreed that both systems - there were errors and corrections that needed to be made. Bottom line, it was a joint thing," Nicholson said.

Compounding the issue, neither the treasurer nor the assessor speak computer.

Nicholson said each office had a computer tech working on their side of the problem and trying to communicate what was going on with the computer tech in the other office. Then both computer techs attempted to describe what was going on to the heads of both offices.

"It was frustrating," Nicholson said.

Nicholson and Fabrizio agreed that the problem should be resolved soon.

"We think we're there and so does the Treasurer's Office," Nicholson said.

Fabrizio said his office is planning to alert property owners through a public service announcement as soon as the tax bills are mailed that they will be able to access their bills and pay online.