Whoever is elected to fill the Tax Commissioner’s seat in November can expect to have at least a little less autonomy in that office than Kay Allen was able to exercise over her more that 20 years at the helm.
Commissioners have already moved to set in place new agreements with Grovetown and Harlem to provide tax collection services at the same rate Allen was charging -- 2 percent. The difference is that money will now go directly to the county’s general fund, whereas Allen had been pocketing those fees from the cities, averaging more than $30,000 each year in extra salary.
What is amazing is that no one seemed to know about a practice that went on for decades.
That will no longer be the case, which is a good thing if you haven’t been paying attention.
While the county was cutting deals with the cities for those services, it was also cutting its fee for providing the same thing for the Board of Education. Instead of $2.5 percent, the county will charge $2.25 percent to collect school board taxes in the next year.
I think this was also a good step, but perhaps not enough.
Let’s look at last year’s budget. The school board paid the county more than $1.8 million in commission for the collection of taxes. That might seem fair until you consider that the entire budget for the Tax Commissioner’s Office was about $1.79 million. Yes, that’s less than what was paid by the school board.
So, what we have essentially is a situation in which school board taxes fund the entire operation of collecting taxes in the county. Does that seem fair? Maybe not.
Since school board taxes amount to about 71 percent of tax collections (a rough estimate), then perhaps they should be responsible for a corresponding amount of expenses. Last year, that would have been closer to $1.25 million. With a school system struggling under years of state budget cuts, I’m sure school trustees could have figured out what to do with a little extra cash.
Another way of thinking about it is that for years the county commission has been profiting from school taxes. Any money from the school board that goes into county coffers is tax derived from property owners at a much higher mill rate.
So, commissioners are doing the right thing in taking a step to relieve this burden, even if it is a baby step.