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New tax board greeted with pay questions

Bell, Banks want members to repay any money received unfairly

POSTED: August 20, 2008 5:01 a.m.

The two new members of the Hall County tax assessors board got a tumultuous welcome at the board's meeting Friday.

Commissioner Bobby Banks and Commissioner-elect Ashley Bell confronted the other two members of the board with a request to pay any money they may have received unfairly back to the county.

"To gain that public trust back, which I know you want just as well as anyone else. ... I hope that if you gentleman did receive pay that you did not know about, then I think it'd be fair that that money be returned to the county," Bell said.

Board members Bill Vaughan and Terrell Gaines said they do not believe they received any more money than they deserved over the last few years.

The tax assessors board has been plagued by controversy since it was alleged that Chairman Emory Martin had been abusing the system by receiving pay for holidays and holding excessive meetings with taxpayers.

Martin had a total of 661 more paid days than the other members of the board, giving him a total of $66,100 in per diem pay between 2001 and 2005, according to Times archives.

Gaines and Vaughan were not directly involved, but holidays were recorded on their pay sheets, which were handled by a separate party. Those time sheets, part of the public record, are what has caused much of the confusion. The two tax assessors even speculate that someone accidently marked a holiday in place of a day they worked.

"Y'all were not even signing your time sheets. That's ludicrous," Banks said. "Whoever was doing your time cards screwed up big time."

Vaughan and Gaines explained to Banks and Bell that they would like to see the matter resolved so they can move on.

"We have been drug through the mud on this thing and our reputation has been damaged." Gaines said. "Like we were cheating the county or something."

Friday, there were only four members of the five-member board present. Martin was not there; he agreed to a leave of absence pending the completion of an investigation into allegations of abuse.

Banks and others in the county have pressured Martin to step down from his position. "The only one I've asked to resign is Mr. Martin," Banks said.

Vaughan and Gaines said they intend to stay on the board, citing their education and experience as an asset to the county. "I didn't come on (the tax assessors board) for money," Gaines said.

"We've worked hard for this office," Vaughan said. "A lot of this makes us look like we're a bunch of scum. We're not."

New members Victoria Cook and Robert Hulsey were added to the board when the Hall County Board of Commissioners voted to increase the tax assessors from a three- to a five-member board July 24.

Hulsey and Cook will be sworn in the first week of September, but attended Friday's meeting.

The three-member tax assessors board was paid $100 per meeting, with no limit on the number of times it can meet. At the July 24 board meeting, Hall County commissioners voted to change the tax assessors pay to a $400-per-month stipend for members and $450 per month for the chairman. Board members will also no longer receive paid holidays.

In July, the commission revoked the part-time board's health insurance benefits.

Some concerned residents came before the board of commissioners during last month's public budget hearings, complaining that in a tight budget year the tax assessors were paid too much and were receiving full-time benefits as part-time employees.

"I'm glad to see they (the tax assessors) are looking forward to a new board as much as we are," Bell said.



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