Theres something to be said for persistence when challenging government bureaucracy.
But theres also something to be said for following the rules if you want to win.
Jimmy Bennett could provide a case study in such persistence. Last year, Bennett and his company, Computer One, Lost a million-dollar bid to provide computers for Columbia County classrooms. Bennett started a PR campaign to discredit the countys process, to claim he should have gotten the sale as a local vendor, and in general to get through sympathy what he didnt get through sealed bids.
The effort failed, mostly because Bennetts disqualified himself: Hed failed to provide the county with information it required from all bidders, so Bennett had no grounds to complain when he lost.
A year went by, and Columbia County schools were ready to make another round of computer purchases.
Bennetts price this time was fifth lowest, and he only came in second when the bids were weighted for quality of the systems offered - so he lost again. But this year was different: Bennett met every requirement set up by the bureaucrats. When the top bidder was disqualified during testing, Computer One suddenly became No. 1 - and Bennett got a million-dollar sale.
Thats the kind of persistence, even in the face of a second defeat, that earns respect. Theres a lesson here for James Mitchell.
Mitchell is a resident of Jensens Wymberly, the retirement community on Columbia Road. Mitchell is angry that he doesnt qualify for a homestead exemption, and as a result is facing a tax bill of about $800 instead of having to pay what would be pocket change.
Im looking for help, Mitchell says. How dare they do what they did!
The they Mitchell is referring to is the Columbia County Tax Office, which keeps up with such things as homestead exemptions. Wymberly is in a unique situation, perhaps in the entire state, says Kay Allen, Columbia Countys tax commissioner. Because the residents own their modular homes and only lease the land beneath them, they historically werent qualified for homestead exemptions.
Then-state Sen. Jake Pollard, ever mindful of the power of the senior vote, changed that just over a decade ago. Wymberly residents now may qualify for a homestead exemption if they live in the same home in the community for three years.
As far as I know, Wymberly is the only place in the state of Georgia where you can get a homestead exemption without owning the land, Allen says.
It can be a significant cut in a Wymberly residents tax bill. Mitchells $84,000 home, for example, would be assessed at $33,757, or 40 percent of its value. With a $40,000 homestead exemption, Mitchell would only have to pay for the tiny amount of state property tax.
But Mitchell, Allen says, doesnt get the exemption. Its not because he has moved from one Wymberly home to another, and hasnt yet lived in the same place for three years. And its not because the calendar on the three years starts by law at Jan. 1, and doesnt take partial years into effect.
No, Mitchell doesnt qualify for the exemption, first and foremost, because he hasnt applied for it.
Mitchell has complained to everybody - not just the media, but to every local and state politician who will listen. Most are sympathetic; after all, who wants to be portrayed as failing to help a disabled veteran? And who wants to defend the tax man, even if it is, in Columbia Countys case, a woman?
To get the exemption, however, you must first follow the bureaucratic rules and actually apply for it. Mitchell, when told he wouldnt qualify, didnt even bother to apply and instead began complaining to anybody and everybody. If he had instead filled out his application, he still would have been turned down - but then he would have been eligible to go through the systems appeals process.
As it is, without applying for the exemption Mitchell has no right to appeal. Nor is he right to complain.
Just ask Jimmy Bennett. Persistence can lead to victory. But first youve got to follow the rules.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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