The Columbia County Sheriff's Office has begun an investigation into Augusta mayoral candidate Ronnie Few's homestead exemption following a complaint filed by a Martinez man.
Jim Bible filed a report Monday with the sheriff's office, stating his belief that Few made false statements concerning his residency when he obtained a homestead exemption on an Evans home.
"We will conduct a complete and comprehensive investigation and report our findings to the district attorney for review," said Sheriffs Office Capt. Steve Morris.
Morris said the case will be investigated under a state statute regarding falsifying statements and concealing facts in matters within the jurisdiction of state or political subdivisions. He said the charge is a felony offense, and anyone found guilty could be punished with a fine not to exceed $1,000, a maximum of five years confinement, or both.
Bible filed the complaint after Columbia County Tax Commissioner Kay Allen said a probe of Few's homestead exemption would have to wait at least two weeks until she returns from vaction.
Allen had said she would decide after she returns whether to ask for a police investigation regarding Few's property tax break.
This past Thursday, Few survived a contest to his eligibility to run for Augusta's top political post with the Richmond County Board of Elections.
Woody Merry, the founder of political watchdog organization CSRAHelp, and retired school psychologist Melanie Roy challenged Few's eligibility with the board of elections because he filed a homestead exemption for a house he owned in the Farmington subdivision of Evans on April 11.
Although Few has since sold the home, Merry and Roy said the homestead exemption designated Few as a resident of Columbia County, thereby making him ineligible to run for office in Richmond County. By law, a candidate for mayor must live in Richmond County for two years before seeking office.
The day after that decition, Allen said she was awaiting advice from county attorney Doug Batchelor before asking the sheriff's office to step in.
Allen said she had no intention of pursuing the subject of Few's residency until she returns from a trip to California. Bible then filed his challenge Monday.
Few bought the Evans property in 2001, Allen said. He did not file for a homestead tax exemption until 2003. He then refiled for the exemption once he deeded part of the property to his wife in 2006, Allen said.
According to the board of elections' ruling, Few has lived in Richmond County for at least five years.
"In my 21 years, this is the first time I've ever had a situation where I've had somebody that's filed for homestead exemption and then so vocally said they didn't really live here," Allen said. "Most of the time, they'll say, 'Yes I filed for it and I did live there.'"
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