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Hall County commissioners seek to remove late tax penalty
Voters OKd 2 installments for property payments, but state law is in the way
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Assistant County Administrator Phil Sutton presented the commissioners with research on ways to get more revenue out of the old county jail in midtown Gainesville.

He said there are other options besides selling the facility that could bring in additional money. Currently, Corrections Corporation of America pays the county about $2 million each month to lease the facility.

An accelerated lease payment agreement would provide early payments from CCA that would increase the county's short-term cash flow.

Revenue bonds are also an option that provide a high return on investment.

CCA is considering the accelerated lease payments and the county's bond attorney is conducting research.

Sutton said he expects responses from both parties in approximately two weeks.

At the commission's last board meeting, Commissioner Billy Powell proposed selling the Main Street jail to create extra revenue to boost the county's dwindling coffers.

He said he was pleased with the other options Sutton proposed.

"I'm glad we're generating these options instead of an outright sale," Powell said. "One big advantage to both of those is we retain ownership of the property."

Melissa Weinman

The Hall County Board of Commissioners will ask the legislature to change state law to remove a late penalty for governments that collect property taxes in two installments.

In a nonbinding referendum on the general election ballot last week, 53 percent of the county's voters said they would be in favor of paying their ad valorem taxes in two installments.

At Monday's work session, County Attorney Bill Blalock told the commission about a resolution that would have Hall County mail one notice to taxpayers that would include two bills for equal amounts, one due Oct. 1 and another on Dec. 1.

The letter would explain penalties for late payments that are mandated by state law.

"If you do not make at least one half payment by Oct. 1, or you don't make your final payment by Dec. 1, there is a penalty of 5 percent," Blalock said.

Blalock said the Tax Assessors Office would prefer to send out just one notice to avoid the additional $50,000 it would cost to send out a second bill.

The commissioners were concerned that many people would be hit with the late penalty if there is no notice that the second tax installment is due.

"This is going to be a can of worms," said Chairman Tom Oliver, who called the 5 percent penalty for late payments "usury."

Commissioners Billy Powell and Ashley Bell pointed out that even though the late penalty was explained in the language of the ballot question, many residents in the city of Gainesville probably were confused. The city is able to collect taxes in two installments with no penalty due to language in its charter.

Powell pointed out that the voters at Gainesville precincts voted for the referendum at higher rates than other areas of the county.

Commissioner-elect Scott Gibbs suggested asking Hall County's legislative delegation to change the state law to get around the late penalties.

Blalock told the commissioners that they needed to vote on the resolution by Dec. 31 in order for taxes to be collected twice next year. However, commissioners are not required to act on the ballot question.

"You're not bound by the resolution," Blalock said.

This was the second time the question appeared on a Hall County ballot. In November 2008, nearly 70 percent of voters said they would prefer to pay taxes twice a year.

Late last year, the commission was poised to approve the Oct. 1 and Dec. 1 due dates when they learned state law would require a 5 percent penalty if the first installment is not paid by the Oct. 1 due date.

The state penalty was not explained on the ballot the first time, so the commission agreed to put it back on the ballot this year, including language that explains the state law.

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