If you grumble about paying taxes, you might have another reason to complain. A new investigation shows Georgia county tax commissioners are allowed to profit personally from the collection of city taxes.
Many cities want to pay counties to collect taxes since it can be easier -- and hypothetically cheaper -- than doing so themselves. It’s legal in Georgia for tax commissioners to pocket fees from the process, but no neighboring state allows this kind of system. And the amount commissioners earn from such fees is often a mystery, even to the county governments where commissioners work.
Georgia News Lab is behind the investigation. It’s a collaboration between journalism students, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV, and it’s embedded at GPB’s Atlanta bureau.
UGA undergraduate students Anila Yoganathan compiled data for the News Lab story, and fellow Bulldog Erin Schilling was one of the main writers on the project. They joined News Lab head David Armstrong in telling On Second Thought what they learned about the tax commissioner fee system – and why it took months of work and hundreds of open records requests to uncover their story.
On Second Thought also reached out to the Georgia Association of Tax Officials (GATO) for a response to the News Lab story. GATO President Tabetha DuPriest wrote:
“Tax commissioners may contract with cities, in their county, to collect that city’s taxes as well.
"This is an additional duty that puts extra responsibility and liability on tax commissioners, not on the county. When tax commissioners and cities enter into these contracts, they are no different than any other contract the city approves and votes on in public meetings. They have the choice, as with the hundreds of other decisions they make each year, to contract with us or not.
"The cities choose the most practical and affordable solution for their operations, and in most instances, they contract with organizations, people or entities that provide the knowledge, confidence and accountability. By contracting with tax commissioners, cities save a substantial amount of money, therefore, saving the taxpayers as well.”