Editor: Thank you for allowing my letter to be printed in the Coastal Courier. I would like to use this opportunity to address comments recently printed in your Sound off section.
With citizens wanting to voice their opinions and views about topics the Sound off gives people the opportunity to exercise their freedom of speech. Whether one’s intentions are good, or whether it is an opportunity to attack someone or something that they don’t like, printed comments such as these have the ability to impact the thinking of others.
So, in my letter I won’t attempt to address the negativity of the comments or their possible intent, but instead I wish to use the callers’ misinformation, whether deliberate or unintended, as a "teachable" opportunity.
First, what appears to have sparked the comments was our legal advertisement of properties that were scheduled for our recent tax sale. Included were properties ranging from two to 16 years delinquent. The callers chose to assume that the tax commissioner is doing a poor job simply because some properties had some very delinquent taxes. The callers could have just as easily assumed the opposite — that there must be a good reason for this, especially seeing other properties in the sale with only 2 years delinquent. Think about it, do you really think that we would wait 16 years to try to collect a tax bill? Really?
The truth is that the extremely delinquent properties have been placed in a tax sale as many as six times. That means this is not the first time many of these properties have been in the paper.
The nature of property tax billing almost guarantees that a certain percentage of billed properties will be very difficult or even impossible to collect. There are various reasons why a legal owner does not pay the taxes. Some delinquent properties are owned by defunct companies, some by persons who are deceased and no family can be found, etc.
The properties that no one bids on are simply undesirable to most people. And when our most powerful tool to collect is by way of selling a property at auction — and no one will purchase it — then we have run out of legal options. So, instead of asking to have these very old years "written off" in the manner allowed by Georgia law I choose to continue to pursue them. I bring these properties back to tax sale every so often in hope that maybe eventually someone will buy them, in hope to finally collect all the taxes ever due. I consider that to be good, diligent tax collecting efforts.
Secondly, I cannot adequately explain in this letter the efforts that my staff and I put forth in pursuing taxes. The callers have spoken having no clue of the many actions that take place in our efforts to fulfill this duty.
Indicative of these efforts is the fact that our current collection rate for 2015 and all prior tax years is above 98 percent. This rate is exceptional for any tax commissioner’s office in Georgia. We achieved this rate through much diligence, by way of various collection procedures that we utilize daily. I consider that to be good, diligent tax collecting efforts.
I encourage my detractors to contact the agencies that I collect for; the Board of Commissioners, city of Hinesville, Board of Education, Industrial Authority, and the Hospital and find out what they think about how well my office collects and provides their revenue that I am entrusted with.
Thirdly, the callers errored again as it relates to budget and finance. Even if I collected every dime ever billed since I have been in office it still would not pay for the referenced services on the east end or on any end of the county. Keep in mind that only the portion of taxes listed on a bill as "County M & O" belongs to the county commissioners — not the entire bill nor all of fees and collection costs included in a total. And budgets are set in advance of billing yearly and a mill rate is set by the county that should generate the amount needed to, theoretically, finance the budget "as presented and approved."
Therefore, previously billed taxes are reserved for predetermined and approved expenses and should have no bearing on undecided or future projects. That’s simply not how it works.
Here’s an idea: how about we wait until our commissioners decide to fund the east end project, place it in the budget, set the appropriate mill rate that will generate the tax revenue needed to pay for it, and wait until then to see how well I collect it.
Lastly, please consider contacting my office with concerns pertaining to the Tax Commissioner’s Office so that we can help you disseminate information that is correct.
And as always, I am honored to serve as your tax commissioner.
Virgil M. Jones
Liberty County tax commissioner