While Columbia County commissioners are preparing to meet about possible legal action against Tax Commissioner Kay Allen, her lawyers are still trying to cut a deal.
Allen’s lead attorney, Douglas Chalmers Jr., has sent a letter to attorneys representing the Columbia County Board of Commissioners stating that his client is still prepared to “work with the county” to resolve the controversy over fees she
has collected from Harlem and Grovetown to compensate her for collecting city taxes.
Commissioners contend that the fees violate state law and that the contracts Allen entered into with the cities were done without their knowledge or consent. The fees were the subject of a criminal investigation now in the hands of District Attorney Ashley Wright.
Allen has denied any wrongdoing and defends her right to collect payments for those services.
The state law governing these agreements between cities and tax collectors changed in 2007, stipulating that in counties with more than 50,000 parcels such agreements should be between the county and each city. Since Columbia County crossed the 50,000 threshold in 2009, Allen has collected more than $160,000 in such fees as personal compensation.
Chalmers points out that the law does not bar the tax commissioner from being paid for those services.
“Quite simply, when a tax commissioner performs ‘additional duties and responsibilities’ by collecting municipal taxes, he or she receives additional compensation,” according to the letter sent Thursday to Pat O’Connor of the Savannah firm Oliver, Maner & Gray, which has been hired by the county.
Chalmers reasons that it’s not a matter of whether Allen should have been paid, but how much. She is, however, prepared to return at least some of the money to the commission, according to the letter.
“Kay was prepared as necessary to cut a check to adjust her compensation retroactively to whatever level the County reasonably determined was appropriate,” Chalmers wrote.
He states in his letter that he “reached out” to the county Jan. 27 but has not heard back.
“It has now been more than 3½ weeks, and we still have not received a response from the County. We do not know the County’s position on the law, or even whether the County is willing to try to resolve these matters amicably,” he wrote.
Commission Chairman Ron Cross acknowledged that an offer had been made but said it was not acceptable to the commission.
“Basically she has offered to keep her job and pay back a minimal amount,” he said.
The commission announced Thursday that it would convene a special meeting today at 3 p.m. Cross said the purpose is to discuss and decide whether the county should take legal action against Allen, but he declined to elaborate.
Chalmers says in his letter that he is prepared to defend his client in a lawsuit, but hopes to avoid one.
“We respectfully suggest that it would be inappropriate, and a waste of taxpayer resources, for us to attempt to resolve these matters through litigation,” the letter said. “It would be a great disservice to the taxpayers of Columbia County for the County’s elected Commissioners to refuse even to discuss this matter with us and then to simply move forward with a lawsuit.”