The audit by Serotta, Maddocks, Evans & Co., which was ordered by the Columbia County Commission in December, examined the tax commissioner’s books and accounts over an 18-month period beginning July 1, 2012.
Its findings include that the tax commissioner was failing to remit money due to the county and other taxing authorities and that Allen was using a tax trust fund to pay credit card expenses before being reimbursed by the county. Allen then repaid the tax funds with the reimbursement.
The draft version of the audit, acquired through a state Open Records request, also confirms that Allen received $57,500 in fees from Grovetown and Harlem in the past two years as payments for tax collection services.
The audit’s findings are the latest wrinkle in a controversy over fees Allen has collected from the cities for more than a decade. Last year, the fees became the subject of an investigation by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and federal authorities, prompting commissioners to call for an audit of all tax commissioner’s accounts and to ask for Gov. Nathan Deal to intervene.
Commissioners contend that the payments from the cities, which Allen keeps as personal compensation, are contrary to a state law that took effect in 2007. The law stipulates that agreements to collect city taxes in counties with more than 50,000 parcels have to be made by the county governing authority, not the tax commissioner.
Columbia County crossed the 50,000 threshold in 2009. Since then, Allen has collected more than $160,000 in additional compensation from Harlem and Grovetown – 2 percent of each city’s property taxes.
The audit – which is waiting for Allen’s response – found that Allen was also collecting credit card fees and non-sufficient funds check fees that were not being passed on to the county. Those fees totaled more than $39,000 according to the audit.
The audit also found “over/short” accounts for property taxes and motor vehicle taxes amounting to more than $29,000 that had not been paid to the county coffers. Also, more than $25,000 in checking account interest from three accounts had not been returned to the proper taxing authorities, auditors said.
State law states that tax commissioners are required each week to turn over “county taxes including, but not limited to, any interest, penalties, or other amounts due the county which they have collected during the week.”
A call late Tuesday to Allen’s attorney, Douglas Chalmers Jr., was not returned. Chalmers has said Allen broke no law by collecting the fees for Grovetown and Harlem, and that she is willing to work with the county to resolve the situation.