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.