Columbia County officials might try to end tax commissioner's city contracts

 

Columbia County officials are studying options to end controversial contracts that compensate Tax Commissioner Kay Allen for collecting property taxes for the cities of Harlem and Grovetown.

County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said it is possible the commission will take up the issue at tonight’s meeting in Evans.

“I think the first thing we need to do is to make any agreements between the tax commissioner and Grovetown and Harlem null and void,” he said Monday. “It is something that has got to be addressed.”

Cross said he believes the commission has the authority to end the tax commissioner’s agreements, but an attorney will likely have to weigh in on the issue. County Administrator Scott Johnson said he and other officials were working on a possible action, but wasn’t certain that it could be taken up as soon as Tuesday.

Over the past two decades, Allen has collected thousands in additional pay for providing tax services to the two municipalities. Current agreements with the cities give her a 2 percent cut of all property taxes billed for the cities. In the past five years, those payments have totaled more than $160,000 in direct compensation for Allen.

The payments came under the scrutiny of law enforcement after authorities were made aware of them in October. Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris said Monday the sheriff’s office has been conducting a “joint investigation” with the FBI since that time.

Grovetown and Harlem officials said Monday they were under the impression the payments for services were going to the county budget, not to Allen’s personal bank account.

“We all assumed that the contract was in compliance with the county,” said Grovetown Councilman Dennis Trudeau, who signed a 2002 contract with Allen when he was mayor. “I thought that maybe she got a little percentage and the rest went to county.”

A $29,000 check from the city of Grovetown for tax collection services was made out to “Columbia County Tax Commission Attention: Kay Allen.”

Harlem Mayor Bobby Culpepper agreed that he thought the 2012 contract that he signed provided payment to the county for tax collection.

“I never would have thought any other way,” Culpepper said. “My impression would have been naturally that it was going to the county.”

Harlem paid Allen $7,000 in 2013 for tax collection. Handwritten invoices sent to both cities in September from Allen are on the tax commissioner’s official letterhead.

Allen has acknowledged that she collects additional compensation and maintains that state law allows her to do so. Other tax commissioners around the state also have such agreements, but not all. Richmond County Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick said he does not get extra compensation for collecting taxes for Hephzibah and Blythe.

State law, which was enacted in 2007, allows such direct compensation for tax commissioners, but only in counties that have fewer than 50,000 parcels. In counties with more than 50,000 parcels, the county itself must enter into such agreements and can, in turn, pay the tax commissioner for providing the service. Columbia County bypassed the 50,000-parcel threshold more than four years ago, officials said.

Sheriff's inquiry focuses on tax commissioner's city contracts

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