Grovetown and Harlem officials said they were under the impression the payments the cities made for tax collection services were going to the county budget, not to the tax commissioner’s personal bank account.
“We all assumed that the contract was in compliance with the county,” said Grovetown Councilman Dennis Trudeau, who signed a 2002 contract with Tax Commission Kay Allen when he was mayor. “I thought that maybe she got a little percentage and the rest went to county.”
An Oct. 5 check for $29,000 from the city of Grovetown for tax collection services was made out to “Columbia County Tax Commission Attention: Kay Allen.”
The tax commissioner’s agreements with the city have been under scrutiny by authorities since October, about the time that Allen fired Deputy Tax Commissioner Dwight Johnson. Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris said the sheriff’s office has been conducting a “joint investigation” with the FBI since that time.
Over the past two decades, Allen has collected thousands in additional pay for providing tax services to the two municipalities. Current agreements with the cities give her a 2 percent cut of all property taxes billed for the cities. In the past five years those payments have totaled more than $160,000 in direct compensation for Allen.
Harlem Mayor Bobby Culpepper said that he thought the 2012 contract that he signed provided payment to the county for tax collection. The city paid $7,000 this year to Allen for the service.
“I never would have thought any other way,” Culpepper said. “My impression would have been naturally that it was going to the county.”
Handwritten invoices sent to both cities in September from Allen are on the tax commissioner’s official letterhead.
Columbia County officials are studying options to end those agreements.
“I think the first thing we need to do is to make any agreements between the tax commissioner and Grovetown and Harlem null and void,” Commission Chairman Ron Cross said Monday. “It is something that has got to be addressed.”
Cross said he believes the commission has the authority to end the tax commissioner’s agreements, but an attorney will likely have to weigh in on the issue.
Allen has acknowledged that she collects additional compensation and maintains that state law allows her to do so. Other tax commissioners around the state also have such agreements, but not all. Richmond County Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick said he does not get extra compensation for collecting taxes for Hephzibah and Blythe.
State law, which was enacted in 2007, allows such direct compensation for tax commissioners, but only in counties that have fewer than 50,000 parcels. In counties with more than 50,000 parcels, the county itself must enter into such agreements and can, in turn, pay the tax commissioner for providing the service. Columbia County bypassed the 50,000-parcel threshold more than four years ago, officials said.