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Liens aim to collect back taxes

Some officials trying to pay overdue bills

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For those late paying taxes, don't feel alone.

It's almost time for Augusta's 2010 bills to go out, and a state legislator and a school board member are just now settling last year's balances due. Both Rep. Wayne Howard and Frank Dolan had liens placed on them by the Tax Commissioner's office, and both paid them off shortly after being contacted by The Augusta Chronicle last week.

"I was completely unaware of this, until you called me," said Dolan, who had already paid $27,600 in property and business taxes on his home and golf cart accessories company, but still owed $152 in late charges and $220 in taxes and penalties on a 15-foot skiff boat.

Howard, D-Augusta, was late paying the $1,057 bill on the Howard's Upholstery building on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, where he's the owner and operator of his family's furniture re-upholstery business and Uniformals Unlimited uniform supply.

In July, $700 was paid toward the balance, and with interest, fees and the penalty, he still owed $630.

"I had no idea a lien had been placed on me," Howard said Friday morning. "We'll take care of it."

Early that afternoon, he called back to say his brother finished paying the bill, although that couldn't be verified.

Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick said to check his Web site Saturday to confirm payment had been received, but Howard's account still shows $630 overdue.

UNPAID SUMS are part of the nearly $2.5 million that remains uncollected from 2009 taxes, which is about 1.7 percent of the total amount billed and slightly above expectations for this point in the year, Kendrick said.

Bill Bozarth, the executive director of Common Cause Georgia -- a nonprofit citizens' lobby group advocating government accountability -- said it's reasonable for taxpayers to expect those with a hand in setting millage rates and deciding how to spend proceeds to promptly pay their own bills.

The reality is, many people in office face the same financial struggles as their constituents, Bozarth said. So long as they're not flagrantly disregarding their obligations, letting taxes go unpaid for years, he sees room for understanding.

"There's a lot of people in the state House who have trouble paying their taxes," Bozarth said. "People who run for public office very often have this messiness in their lives."

Dolan said his overdue bills weren't about an inability to pay, but rather not knowing he had to. Within 15 minutes of taking a reporter's call Thursday, the school board District 7 representative rushed to the tax office and paid up, which tax office records reflect.

Given the amount he's already paid, he said, he certainly wasn't trying to beat the city out of a few hundred dollars.

He attributed the late charges, applied to the taxes on his Waverly subdivision home, to "lackadaisical record-keeping on my part." He said he didn't realize when he paid the base amount in December that he was a month late.

Dolan said he's flabbergasted that he owed any taxes on the boat. From 2005 to 2007, the city valued it at less than $7,500 and he didn't have to pay anything. He paid $141 when it was valued at $11,160 in 2008, then in 2009 it was valued at $9,985.

He said he'll be lodging a protest.

"I know a 10-year-old boat that's handmade is not worth $10,000," Dolan said.

HOWARD EXPLAINED that he doesn't handle the day-to-day details of his business, such as paying the property tax, but one of his brothers had worked out a payment plan with the tax office. The final installment being paid Friday had nothing to do with the call from the newspaper, he said.

He said he understands the expectation that elected officials be role models when it comes to paying tax bills, but economic times are tough, and sometimes a businessman has to do what he can to make things work financially, even if it means paying interest and penalties.

"The bottom line is to get it paid," Howard said.

The Tax Commissioner's lien isn't the only one on file against Howard at the Richmond County Clerk of Court's office. Another one filed by the Georgia Department of Revenue says his business owes $621.50 for failing to pay state sales taxes in March 2007.

Howard said he's been making payments against that balance, and if it isn't down to zero by now, it's close.

Another sitting member of Augusta's legislative delegation also has a judgment on file against him involving state taxes. In February, the revenue department re-filed a $2,485 lien on Rep. Earnie Smith, D-Augusta, for income taxes from calendar year 1998.

Smith said Friday that the matter has already been settled, that he doesn't owe the money because he left his job with the postal system two months into 1998 on disability, but for some reason the state didn't account for it.

If someone in his position is having these kinds of troubles with the revenue department, it's a good bet other Georgians are facing the same bureaucratic frustrations, Smith said. It might be something he'll take up in next year's General Assembly.

"One thing they are not is fast, when it comes to getting things off records and getting things satisfied," Smith said.

FOR BOTH Howard and Smith, such blemishes on their records can put them in the sights of the House Ethics Committee, leading to sanctions, including reprimands and expulsion. A law enacted last year requires the revenue commissioner to tell the House and Senate committees about any legislators who are delinquent on state taxes.

Probes have been launched, but so far meetings have been private and names kept secret. No one has been sanctioned, though some legislators have been asked to prove their problems are being resolved.

Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs, the chairman of the House Ethics Committee, said he was aware of Howard's and Smith's issues, but he declined to speak to specifics.

Howard said his overdue balance hasn't come up in Atlanta. Smith said he's been talked to -- declining to say by whom -- but once he explained the situation, the matter was disposed of.

Both representatives, and Dolan, face no opposition in this year's elections.

A check of candidates in other races turned up only one with unpaid city taxes. Alan Tanner, the publisher of the South Augusta Sentinel newspaper and one of four men vying for the District 8 commission seat currently held by Jimmy Smith, owes $173 for the past two years' taxes on his mobile home off Forest Road.

THE PROPERTY, still in the name of Tanner's late mother, also is in arrears for 2008 and 2009 in the amount of $613. According to the tax office, it's slated for the public auction block in December.

Tanner said when he inherited the property, he also inherited back taxes. He said he's doing his best to catch up, having paid them through 2007, and he won't let the property be lost in a courthouse sale.

His financial problems shouldn't give voters pause about picking him in November, Tanner said.

"Because I want to get rid of property taxes," he said. "I'm in a position right now to say this is the problem: If you're struggling, they'll take your property away from you.

"That's my point. I'm struggling like everyone else."

Morris News Service reporter Walter C. Jones contributed to this article.

Uncollected taxes

Augusta Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick said he and his staff will be in Atlanta this week with the goal of getting the 2010 digest approved by the state Department of Revenue on Monday or Tuesday. Bills go out Sept. 10 and will be due Nov. 15.

As for 2009 taxes, 98.3 percent of the nearly $142 million billed has been collected, compared with 98.2 percent collected at this point last year. Penalties total $815,377 so far.

Property tax proceeds go to the school district, the city government and the state.

"What's happening is we're just more aggressive, and it's working," the commissioner said.

Some portion will be uncollectable because of bankruptcy filings and insolvency, or in cases where the city is moving to raze or sell properties because of owners' lack of interest, Kendrick said.

Augusta's overdue tax collections

Here's where the city stands on collecting past taxes:

Total bills:91,157514,852
Total amount billed:$141,930,644.49$687,803,095.65
Yet to be collected:$2,458,885.63$2,277,742.56
Portion collected:98.3 percent99.7 percent

* As far back as delinquent taxes can be pursued because the statute of limitations on tax liens runs out after seven years.

Source: Richmond County Tax Commissioner's office

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Junket831 08/22/10 - 03:27 am
While I can relate with Mr.

While I can relate with Mr. Tanner being in a tight spot. If he has the time, energy and financial ability to run for office, he sure as heck can pay his taxes.

As for Mr. Smith's situation, isn't there a statuate of limitations on tax cases? The article above indicates a tax year that is 12 years ago. I realize the state has been very slow of late in processing taxes, but this is a stretch or a typo.

Both tax problems faced by Mr. Howard and Mr. Smith are good examples of why the Ethics Committee must publish the name of any elected official with an outstanding tax issue. This would give Mr. smith an opportunity to clear his name in public and not have an erroneous cloud over his head. It will also serve as tool to encourage all elected officials to pay those taxes first then dispute them privately.

dickworth1 08/22/10 - 06:00 am
Paying your taxes is an

Paying your taxes is an obligation and there should not be anyone owing
taxes over a preset date, at that time action should be taken to seize the property and sell at public auction to recover the taxes owed. It is
also the responsibility of our commissioners to control spending by the city knowing the economy is bad and unemployment is high and is going
to get worse before it gets better. Do we really need to build new projects costing millions just to have a pretty building for our criminals?
Why not spend 1/3 of that to remodel our current bldgs. Do the commissioners really represent the voters? Vote them out and hold the new commissioners to their campaign promises.

bettyboop 08/22/10 - 08:08 am
Hey Steven Kendrick!!!!! Any

Hey Steven Kendrick!!!!! Any word on the $25,000.00 missing that YOU were responsible for??...What's the good of collecting it ..if you lose(?) it or ALLOW someone else to?

CATFISHSTEW 08/22/10 - 08:58 am
Dickworth1...I too agree

Dickworth1...I too agree about remodeling the the 4th st Jail. there is not one thing wrong with that structure...I commented about this a few weeks ago.Gut it and remodel it.. new electrical and plumbing They don't need to spend on building a new Jail...They already own the property and parking lot...But no they want to spend Millions for a new Jail. And while I'm on this tare.....these studies they spend way too much money on
studies on this and studies on that...they spent 500,000 on a study
to some out side firm to see the future of Augusta.. Big waste of time and money. It seems they have a study to see who is going to do the study....It goes on and on and on. I'll get back with you all..... I'll have to study about all of this.

apex24 08/22/10 - 10:00 am
I wonder if I were to go into

I wonder if I were to go into Mr.Howard's place of business and asked would he put me on a payment plan what would be the response???

Mac2406 08/22/10 - 10:12 am
If someone owe you money, do

If someone owe you money, do you forget it? I do not think so. I know my taxes are do yearly, and I hate to pay them like everybody else. The tax office only gives you a one percent discount if you pay early, "ridiculous." So, I wait until the next to the last day and pay minds because it's a responsibility. Why did the public servants go pay their taxes? Because they were notified by the AC. As Paul Harvey would say it, "Now you know the rest of the story."

TakeAstand 08/22/10 - 12:47 pm
Over 2 mill? I know some

Over 2 mill? I know some people may have already paid their mortgages off but why dont they just make it mandatory you have to wrap the taxes into the mortgage and have the mortgage company pay them? It's not that much more a month and you dont have to worry about getting behind with it and losing your place or coming up with a lump sum every year. Seems they may be intentionally dodging these taxes. Sure some people had something spin out of their control at a bad time and they got a little behind, but not that many. It's going to catch up with them and they wont like the outcome and then will whine how unfair it is. No whats unfair is you not paying your share. But then again, neither do the freeloaders who make more dependants and no ones trying to make them pay their fair share, or at the least, stop making so many more dependants. Geesh, irresponsible people..they really get to me.

Sweet son
Sweet son 08/22/10 - 06:54 pm
Why doesn't the AC just print

Why doesn't the AC just print a complete list of the deliquents? I think that I already know the answer to the question. The list would be so long that it would take up too much of their "very valuable" print space.

TakeAstand 08/22/10 - 08:52 pm
lol Sweet son, you are right,

lol Sweet son, you are right, but it may also embarrass a couple of people and they may pay up!! haha Print a list of some of the names each day for a week until you get them all and so they will stand out more instead of the whole long list at one time and their names getting lost in the masses. Humiliation works. Not everyone could pay it, but those like the hotel guy the other day who magically came up with all that money in a couple of hours. You have the money or access to it, know you owe, but just refuse to pay. It may embarrass some of those into paying!! Maybe just a nice write up in the paper would embarrass a few into magically having their money to pay too, and let them know there will be a follow up article in the future to see who has paid and get their name out there again. The county could rent it like an ad if AC wouldn't do it. lol Worth a try. I wouldn't agree with regular places using this tactic that's too far putting peoples private info out there, but this is money owed to the county (citizens) for the benefit of the county (citizens) so should be public record as to who owes the people and who the people owe right? I could be wrong, but sounds good. lol

Mac2406 08/22/10 - 10:05 pm
TakeAstand, mortgage

TakeAstand, mortgage companies take care of their properties when they sell you your home. If you have a mortgage payment believe me, the insurance and property taxes are being held in "escrow," look at your statement. When it is due, it is automatically paid. If you do not have a mortgage, then you are responsible for insurance and taxes on your home. When it comes to paying people we owe, agencies, and creditors, it's easily to find excuses why we did not pay or did not have the money. But, here is a solution to most people problems, if you can not afford it, it's not for you. If you do not have the money, it's not for you. If you are not working, it's not for you. If you are having a problem making ends meets, you're living above your means. If you fit into any of these categories, you might need to reevaluate your finances. When all else fail, then we have crime. :)

TakeAstand 08/23/10 - 05:09 pm
Is it mandatory? I pay my

Is it mandatory? I pay my taxes and insurance through my mortgage, but I know plenty who pay their insurance on their own, they do not require it to be in escrow and paid by them, they just require you to have it one way or another. Don't know about the taxes, I thought it was the same way, but I could be wrong. The mortgage company may come after you and add it in to your mortgage if you fail yo keep proper insurance. It seems if it is already mandatory, insurance would be more important to them than taxes and that would be done mandatory too. But its not mandatory unless certain companies have that in your contract, but not all do. After all, if you are behind in taxes or mortgage they have property to sell to get their money. If it burns down then because of your lapse in insurance, they have nothing. Seems silly to require taxes in with your mortgage for them to pay but leave the insurance for you to do on your own. So I think both are optional to be paid by them unless you fail to maintain it. They do require a certain type of mortgage insurance (pmi) to be paid, I think through them but not sure, but after so much paid like 20% of principal paid, that can be dropped.

jlcaulkins 08/28/10 - 09:53 pm
What Mr. Alan Tanner also

What Mr. Alan Tanner also fails to tell you is that he already almost lost the piece of property at 4475 forest rd,also still in his mothers name,in July for lack of paying taxes on it. A piece of property he has been renting out for the last 3 yrs. Until we moved out in August because of the mold growing in the house,because of a roof leak he knew about for 2 yrs,and because of the septic tank that is caving in and his solution to that was to run everything but the toilets out into the woods by the house so it drains into the already polluted water system Mr. Tanner just reported about in his paper, or the bare electrical wiring running through the house. He also neglects to tell you that he is racist and called my son-in-law and granddaughter the N word,harrassed while we were trying to move, ran over our pool pump and busted it and tried to follow us to our new home. Ya'll go ahead and elect him as your commissioner. Have fun with that!

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