In theory and by law, businesses in Liberty County are supposed to charge customers only 6 percent sales tax. That has been the case since April 1, when the county’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax expired because a majority of voters chose not to renew it during the November election.
That would make ours the lowest sales-tax rate in the Coastal Empire.
In reality, many people still are being charged 7 percent sales tax by Liberty County businesses.
Reporter Randy C. Murray wrote about this phenomenon in a story that was published April 5 after a reader called in on April 2 to tell us that he still was being charged 7 percent sales tax. Kim McGlothlin, the county’s chief financial officer, told Murray that when she asked the Georgia Department of Revenue about it, she was told it was up to the businesses to change the tax rate they charge their customers.
When Murray inquired of a few businesses, he received varying answers. Sherry Walthour, assistant manager of Parker’s at 903 W. Oglethorpe Highway, said her company had corrected its computer programs and was not longer charging the 7 percent rate.
Lisa Nicholas, manager of Clyde’s Market at 791 E.G. Miles Parkway, said all Clyde’s locations had their computers reprogrammed at the home office in Glennville on April 2.
We applaud those businesses for doing the right thing, and we hope that most Liberty County businesses fit this description. But we also are aware of a number of businesses — stores and restaurants — that as of April 23 still were charging 7 percent.
McGlothlin said her office sent a notice to each municipality concerning the sales-tax rate change. She explained to Murray that the county does not have a listing of businesses within each municipality, and she hoped each municipality would contact its local business.
Well, if the municipalities — specifically, the largest one, the city of Hinesville — have contacted businesses within their limits, it hasn’t worked. And the businesses, according to McGlothlin, actually have an incentive not to charge the lower sales tax because they get to keep the extra money.
Something is definitely wrong with this picture. Maybe there should be some kind of penalty that businesses should pay for charging the extra sales tax.
It’s understandable that just a few days into the month, businesses — especially those that are part of regional or national chains — might still have needed time to reprogram their cash registers. And even that is generous because they should have known since the November election results were certified that the sales-tax rate was dropping 1 percent effective April 1.
But by April 23, businesses have been given plenty of time to make the change. If there is no legal remedy to force these businesses to charge the correct, lower sales-tax rate — 6 percent — perhaps the businesses can be shamed into compliance. Perhaps if people reported publicly — on social media, in the Courier’s Sound off column or elsewhere — which businesses have for whatever reason not found it within themselves to charge the correct sales tax, maybe the negative publicity would give them reason to change.
Don’t get us wrong. We at the Courier are business-friendly — we’re a business ourselves — and we want businesses to thrive. But we want them to do so honestly and not take advantage of a loophole in the tax system that hurts customers and taxpayers and benefits only the businesses.