City property owners who still owe 2016 property taxes will not be charged any additional late fees or interest as a result of a dispute over collection between city officials and the new tax commissioner, city officials said Tuesday.
Despite a letter threatening legal action if city taxpayers were not allowed to pay the city portion of their 2016 taxes sent by City Manager Jim Drumm to newly-elected Tax Commissioner Jeff Chapman, people were still being turned away on Tuesday.
Kathy Mills, the city’s finance director, said a taxpayer came to her office Tuesday telling her he was turned away when he tried to pay a 2016 property tax bill at the tax commission office.
“I sent the city attorney and the city manager an email telling them that payments were still being denied,” Mills said.
Drumm said Tuesday that he understands Chapman is seeking legal advice regarding the letter and his obligation to collect 2016 taxes.
“We remain confident and optimistic in believing that his office will resume the 2016 tax collection while we continue to discuss the 2017 tax cycle collection agreement and his request for a 30 percent increase in his personal payment,” Drumm said. “If there is not a resolution very soon, the city is prepared to take legal action seeking a Superior Court order that he continue collecting the city taxes as obligated under state law.”
City officials made it clear that no additional late fees on top of what have already been charged will be assessed against taxpayers who failed to pay their taxes by the Nov. 15, 2016 deadline.
“No matter how this issue is resolved, we will make sure our taxpayers are not charged any additional fees if they were turned away from paying their taxes starting Jan. 3, 2017,” Mills said. Penalties and interest will only be added up to Jan. 3.
Mills also said the situation is a long way from putting any properties in jeopardy.
Chapman said this week that Georgia law requires him to have a signed intergovernmental agreement with the city to collect its property taxes. Not having it, he said, constitutes breaking the law.
The city and the former tax commissioner, Florence Dees, had an agreement as far back as 2003 that her office would collect the city’s taxes for $90,000 to cover staff and administrative costs. Another $20,000 was paid personally to her as the commissioner. Chapman wanted to increase the personal payment to $26,000. Negotiations for a new agreement fell apart and Chapman stopped collecting city property taxes when his office reopened after the holidays on Jan. 3.
“Once she (Dees) left the office, that contract with the city was null and void,” Chapman said Monday. “As a county tax commissioner, I am responsible for all county taxes, but for municipalities, I have to have an agreement each year.”
Chapman clarified Monday that the $90,000 portion the city currently pays for tax collection would not change. He said he’s only asking for an increase in the personal payment to him.
The city contends that unpaid 2016 taxes are still covered under the agreement with Dees. City officials have also said they are considering setting up their own tax collection system to accept the city portion of a property owners’ taxes moving forward. Other portions of property taxes go to Glynn County and the Glynn County Board of Education.
In Drumm’s letter to Chapman, he explained how things worked between the city and Dees, stating in part that the former tax commissioner prepared, billed and initiated the city’s 2016 tax cycle collection.
Drumm also pointed out that Georgia law, which has been cited by both sides in this issue, states, “When the tax collector or tax commissioner of any county is succeeded by another, the outgoing tax collector or tax commissioner shall no longer be authorized to collect taxes or enforce executions issued for the collection of taxes. All uncompleted duties in respect to the collection of taxes and enforcement of executions shall pass to the successor tax collector or tax commissioner as provided.”
Drumm argues uncollected 2016 city taxes are the new tax commissioner’s responsibility based on the statute.