ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Terrell County Commissioners claim it's a case of the fox guarding the hen house.
Sheriff John Bowens is responsible for collecting taxes, but he also owes taxes. The commission voted to ask the District Attorney to investigate the Sheriff. Commissioner Van Phillips claims Bowens owes more than $800 in penalties and interest on property taxes he failed to pay on time.
County Commissioners asked the Sheriff to turn over the collection process to the tax commission, but the Sheriff refuses to do so.
The tax commissioner laid out what the Sheriff has paid and hasn't paid in the last seven years. He made good on the taxes, but in some cases paid them five years late. It's what he hasn't paid that has commissioners upset.
Georgia law makes it the Sheriff's responsibility to collect delinquent taxes, but in nearly every county the Sheriff transfers that responsibility to the tax collector. Terrell County is an exception.
"The commissioners have asked him and written him repeatedly to relinquish this position, let the tax commissioner handle it," said Terrell County Commissioner Van Phillips.
Commissioners claim Sheriff John Bowens owes $860 in penalties and interest. When we looked at the tax records we found in some cases like 2003 he's paid in full, but in five other cases he hasn't. Sheriff Bowens wouldn't talk with us on camera, but on the phone said he didn't want to comment on the issue, claiming he paid the taxes, but tax records show he owes the $860.
"There is a law, a Georgia law that prohibits candidates for qualifying for an elected position if you owe past due taxes. He's owed them for many years," said Phillips.
That's why they've asked the county attorney to get the district attorney involved.
"I'll try to provide him with as much information as I can find and I think I've got a duty to my commissioners to report back to them should I find its not as substantial as initially believed," said Terrell County Attorney Ed Collier.
The county bills a little more than six million dollars in property taxes a year and traditionally collects about 96 percent of that. In the last seven years they've only failed to collect just $500,000 after commissioner hired a collection agency, but state law doesn't waiver on who's allowed to forgive those penalties and interest and it's not the Sheriff.
"State law is very explicit, the board of commission can forgive taxes not taxes themselves, but penalties and interest and that's set out by state law," said Collier.
County Attorney Ed Collier had planned to get more information from the tax collectors office by weeks end and planned to review that information before sending it and a letter to the District Attorney's office.
Commissioner Van Phillips told us several years ago he got a delinquent slip along with penalties and interest on property he owns years after the tax bills were sent to the previous owner. He claims because the Sheriff was lax on the collections, he got hit with interest and a penalty which he has paid.