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Many questions remain to be answered in tax commissioner controversy

Posted: December 29, 2013 - 12:05am

The controversy of Tax Commissioner Kay Allen’s extra compensation from Harlem and Grovetown has generated intense discussion and endless speculation since news of a criminal investigation became public this month.

What is known about the situation appears to be problematic for Allen.

We know that in the last five years, Allen was paid more than $160,000 by the two cities for providing tax-collection service.

She has acknowledged that she entered into contracts with cities to do so and the money was kept by her as compensation for that service.

We know that the law governing these types of agreements was changed in 2007.

The law states that the tax commissioner is allowed to accept additional compensation for providing tax-collection service to the cities, but it stipulates two scenarios for such compensation.

In counties with fewer than 50,000 parcels, the law says the tax commissioner may be paid by the cities.

In counties with more than 50,000 parcels, the law says counties may pay the tax commissioner for that service.

We know that Columbia County passed the 50,000 threshold in 2009. Officials from both cities have said they assumed their payments were being made to the county, not the tax commissioner.

County officials say they were unaware of the arrangement altogether.

It is what is unknown, however, that has people talking.

One of the main questions is did Allen know the law? One would hope that she did, since this is the one area where, as the Tax Commissioner, she is expected to be the local expert.

Tax commissioners are required to attend 15 hours of continuing education and training each year.

Did Allen receive training for the change in the 2007 law?

If she did, Department of Revenue records likely exist that show whether she attended.

If Allen was aware of the change in the law, she should have known that the threshold was coming soon. In 2007, Columbia County had more than 47,000 parcels.

Another question is why didn’t county officials catch this long ago?

Audits are performed frequently, but officials say auditors can’t catch problems where no record exists. In this case, tax money was collected from the city property owners and returned to the city governments. Allen was given checks that amounted to 2 percent of taxes collected.

The checks went directly into her personal accounts. No county accounts were involved, so it seems that county auditors didn’t have anything to question.

Who else knew? I’m sure that in her defense, Allen will want to portray these agreements as legal and appropriate, not secretive side deals that she wanted kept out of public view.

After all, she has been collecting taxes for the cities for almost 20 years. It seems implausible that no one knew she was doing this, or that she was collecting extra pay in the process.

No one, however, seems very eager to speak up.

Even if none step forward to support Allen’s side of the story, there is at least one person we should expect to have known something, her husband.

Was Commissioner Charles Allen aware that his wife was earning an extra $30,000 or so each year?

Was he benefiting, even indirectly from this windfall?

If so, it would seem that someone other than the tax commissioner owes an explanation to Columbia County’s taxpayers.

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Comments (3)

Little Lamb

Questions

Yes, many questions remain to be answered. But I'm certain we will not get any answers from Tax Commissioner Kay Allen nor from her husband County Commissioner Charles Allen. They are now represented by a hot shot criminal defense attorney in Atlanta as well as another one here in Augusta. If those attorneys are earning their fees, then they have advised Mr. and Mrs. Allen to say nothing to the press nor to anyone else.

However, I would hope that attorneys representing the cities of Grovetown and Harlem would be a little more forthcoming to the press and put out some statements describing the contracts the cities entered into with the Tax Commissioner. Those contracts, after all, are public records. They should be released to the press under Georgia Open Records Act requests.

All anyone is talking about are the contracts since 2009, but I contend that much information could be gleaned by also examining the contracts before 2009 and even before 2007. Were new contracts signed each year, or were the contracts multi-year? Did the contracts run in perpetuity until one side or the other terminated the contracts?

The Columbia County attorney also should speak up and tell whether these contracts are filed with other county contracts or whether Ms. Allen hid them from the county. The contracts were executed between the county Tax Commissioner and the city governments of Grovetown and Harlem, but they are county records and should have been filed in standard manner.

Let's assume the IRS discovers that the Allens did not report this income on income tax returns. That's tax evasion. But a good tax attorney can apologize to the IRS and the Allens can make restitution. Hence, I don't think we'll ever know the details about the income tax evasion angle.

Sweet son

Questionable statement! "but officials say auditors can’t catch

problems where no record exists." Well it would seem logical that Harlem and Grovetown city records would show a disbursement to Ms. Allen and that Ms. Allen's personal signature would appear on the back of these checks which seem to have been paid directly to her and possibly deposited into her personal account or someone else's personal account. Records of these transactions should exist unless both Harlem and Grovetown have shabby accounting departments. I don't think so!

She can't claim ignorance to the law either. In her position it is imperative that she know current tax law and we all should think that the topic of personal payments to Tax Commissioners would have been discussed when the 50,000 parcel law was passed in 2007.

The Tax Commisioner should not expect or receive any county compensation for taxes collected from Harlem and Grovetown because she didn't do any of the work anyway!

LBenedict

Let me check

with Atlanta via an open records request and see who from Columbia County signed in and signed out for the mandatory meetings pertaining to this topic. One would "think" that Ron Cross, Scott Johnson, and Kay Allen attended. If all three did not...at least one should have.

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