Committee to debate vet’s tax dilemma

By: By Beth Lawrence - Staff reporter

LAURINBURG – The fate of an elderly man’s request for tax exemption for his home will be among the items discussed Tuesday at Scotland County’s Policy Committee.

Ninety-year-old Danny Kelly requested that the county board of commissioners accept his late application for a homestead exemption on his 2017 property taxes. The exemption gives low income and elderly residents a tax exemption on the first $25,000 of their property value.

Kelly’s request has caused some controversy because the World War II veteran’s home is currently in tax foreclosure, and some feel that nothing is being done to help him.

The meeting will be held at 9 a.m. at the county offices at 507 W Covington Street and is open to the public.

Kelly’s attorney, Mike Schmidt, attempted to explain the situation to the board in his request for the exemption earlier this month. The board took no immediate action due to the uncertainty of the foreclosure and referred the issue to the policy committee.

“His late application for relief on 2017 taxes was the request, but the house would have still been in foreclosure for over $7,000 owed on it, so the board understood that to relieve him of all or any portion of his 2017 taxes would have still left this property in foreclosure,” said Commissioner, John Alford. “Since there were several things to consider the matter was referred to the policy committee.”

Also at issue, according to Schmidt, is the fact that if the exemption is not granted, any future taxes will be added to Kelly’s tax bill. Even if he were able to settle the foreclosure proceeding, Kelly would have taxes due for 2017, 2018 and any other years until the case is settled. Without an exemption for those years, the full tax bill with penalties and interest would be added to whatever settlement he might get.

The county began foreclosure proceedings because no taxes have been paid on the property since 2002. However, Kelly did not take possession of the land and home until 2009 through a personal sale without the benefit of a real estate agent. There were $3,400 in taxes owed at the time he bought the home. According to law, anyone purchasing property also buys any taxes owed on it.

Kelly began paying taxes after he moved in, but was unaware of the past due bill until he was informed of it by someone in the tax collections office. The county’s payment system is set up so that if past due taxes are owed, any money paid on the bill is applied to the most outstanding date. Kelly’s payments were being applied to the 2002 bill, well before he purchased the home.

With taxes that have accrued from 2009 forward added to back taxes and penalties, Kelly currently owes the county just over $7,000.

The county began the foreclosure process in July of 2011, a year after Kelly filed the deed; however, he was not notified of the foreclosure until years later, according to Schmidt.

“They filed the complaint in 2011. Kelly had just bought it in July 2010, but they didn’t get service on him then. He didn’t get served until June 2015 and again on July 2016,” Schmidt said.

Kelly, is a widower and lives alone. He spent the years after his military service doing home remodeling and construction work. He retired from that in 1970 after he had six heart attacks the previous year. He was also a minister at Temple Baptist Church in Aberdeen.

Kelly receives $843 a month in Social Security/Disability and collects cardboard to sell in order to supplement that meager income.

“This board is open to help this man. I know the board; I know this man. We just haven’t taken it up yet,” Alford said. “Whatever we can do statutorily, I’m going to vote to do it. I don’t know what that is, but whatever it is, I can forgive whatever the statue allows. I’m for that.”

A veteran’s advocate says that Kelly may be due back-benefits from the military.

Terri Fuller Mahoney, a retired US Army Lt. Col., was intrigued by the story of the veteran and the threat of foreclosure, so she decided to look into how he might be helped.

“I was appalled and wanted to see if there was a way to generate some assistance. It strikes me as odd that Mr. Kelly was not informed that taxes were owed on this property,” Mahoney said. “I do a lot of volunteer work with veterans. There might be some benefits he qualifies for, somebody should reach out to him and offer to take him to the veteran’s office. You don’t want this thing to get on the national news.”

Mahoney reached out to local officials to plead Kelly’s case. One of the officials to whom she spoke was state Rep. Garland Pierce whose district includes Scotland County. As a veteran, Pierce claims veteran’s affairs as a cause dear to him.

Pierce contacted Veteran’s Administration in Fayetteville and was informed that Kelly would have to file for benefits in the Scotland County office.

“He would have to have served from 1941 to 1946. Most of the folks I talked to felt like he should be eligible for pension through the VA with his age and the conflict he served in, and due to his age they would speed [the claim] up for him,” Pierce said.

According to Mahoney, it is likely that Kelly would be due back pay on whatever benefits he missed out on if his claim is approved.

“Someone should help him. Even if they can’t do anything for him, then they will at least be able to say they tried,” she said.

By Beth Lawrence

Staff reporter

Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169

Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169