Commissioners hold their noses, approve city tax plan
Grady County Commission Chairman Al Ball on Tuesday broached the controversial subject of the county collecting ad valorem taxes for the city of Cairo, and this time the majority of the commission approved the city’s request.
Previously, city officials had made a request to the county to allow Tax Commissioner Phyllis Gainous collect city taxes, which is a customary function in many other Georgia communities, but the commission rejected the idea at first, because the tax commissioner would benefit personally from the arrangement.
Based on the city’s request, the tax commissioner agreed to collect the city taxes at a rate of $1.25 per parcel and the county would receive a fee of $1.75 per parcel.
However, county commissioners opposed the plan, citing angst over the tax commissioner being paid the $1.25 per parcel fee personally.
Based on the approximately 5,500 parcels within the corporate limits of Cairo, Commissioner Gainous will be paid approximately $6,250.
In bringing the issue back up following a recent meeting with Cairo Mayor Richard VanLandingham and City Manager Chris Addleton, Chairman Ball said, “What is being asked of the county will add no real cost the county. What I am saying is, it doesn’t paint a good picture to be at odds with the city on minor issues when we have bigger issues we need and want to cooperate with the city on. From my point of view, we could be cutting off our nose to spite our face.”
Although Ball, too, has concerns with the tax commissioner benefiting personally under the proposed arrangement, he says that will be something Mrs. Gainous must answer for when she is up for reelection in two years.
The commission chairman and the board agreed Tuesday that since the collection of the city taxes adds no additional cost to the county, the county would not charge any fee for collecting the municipal taxes.
Ball made it clear that it is between the tax commissioner and the city council as to the amount of fee Commissioner Gainous would be paid.
Grady County Administrator Rusty Moye said the check would be written by the city to the tax commissioner and the city would issue her a 1099 tax form annually, documenting the additional income. “We will have nothing to do with it,” Moye noted.
Commissioners Bobby Burns and Charles Norton took issue with allegations made by Cairo Mayor VanLandingham that the county was not cooperating with the city by rejecting the tax plan.
“If not for the payment to the tax commissioner, I would be cooperative now. That is a stiff payment for what she says she has to do,” Commissioner Burns said.
He also stated, “I take exception with the mayor. Since I have been on this board, I cannot think of a single time we have not cooperated with the city or a time when the city has not cooperated with us.”
“I agree with Mr. Burns. If the $1.25 fee was paid into the general fund just like the school board fee is, I would have no problem. But if it goes in her pocket and she goes to Tallahassee on a shopping spree, then I have a problem,” Commissioner Norton said.
State law requires that the tax collection fee charged by the county for the collection of school taxes be remitted to the general fund.
“It’s her political problem,” Commissioner Elwyn Childs noted.
Norton also suggested the commission contact the county’s legislative delegation to suggest state law be changed that allows for tax commissioners to be personally compensated for the collection of municipal taxes.
“The state did away with the fee system in the courthouse years ago. Either we’re going to have a salary system or a fee system. I guarantee you one thing, if we went back to the fee system, you wouldn’t have half the employees we have now in this courthouse,” Commissioner Norton said.
Commissioner Burns suggested the city negotiate a lower fee with the tax commissioner, but Moye said city officials already asked if she would accept a lower fee and she had indicated no.
Chairman Ball said he had personally contacted the tax commissioner before the commissioners rejected the plan to see if she would accept a lesser few. “She would not budge,” Ball said.
Previously, Commissioner Gainous had told commissioners she was open to negotiating the fee, but she would not do it for free. She noted that she is the one responsible for the collection of the tax and she should be compensated for taking on those additional responsibilities. The tax commissioner also pointed out that in many Georgia counties the tax commissioner receives much more of a fee per parcel and some do not share any with the county.
Under Gainous’ proposal, the city was willing to pay the county up to $1.75 per parcel, which would have generated approximately $10,000 for the county’s general fund.
“It tears me up she is using county employees and county office space for personal gain,” Commissioner Norton said.
“I question a public servant who is not willing to give a little for what little she indicated it would take to collect the city’s taxes. It’s not a $6,000 expense for her on a personal basis or otherwise,” Burns commented.
Vice Chairman Charles Renaud made the motion to approve any agreement the city and the tax commissioner can come up with and Commissioner Childs seconded the motion.
The vice chairman said the issue would come up again at election time and Commissioner Norton responded, “It should.”
In voting against the motion Norton also stated, “My decision has nothing to do with the city,” and Commissioner Burns said, “I hate to go against the city, I’m a city resident. It is the tax commissioner benefiting to such a great extent that I disagree about.”
The motion passed 3-2 and City Manager Addleton said he will present an agreement between the tax commissioner and the city on the city council’s agenda Monday night for its approval.
City officials and Commissioner Gainous say time is running out, but they are hopeful everything can be resolved so that the county tax commissioner begins collecting city taxes this year.
“I am very pleased with the commission’s action. I think it will please all taxpayers to have all of their taxes on one bill,” City Manager Addleton said after learning of the Tuesday morning vote.