While Catoosa County has been collecting municipal taxes on behalf of Ringgold and Fort Oglethorpe for roughly 15 years, there has never been a formal contract outlining how the process should work, said County Attorney Skip Patty.
That changed at the Catoosa County Board of Commissioners' Oct. 17 meeting.
That is really the only thing that changed, despite Tax Commissioner Gary Autry suggesting otherwise.
Autry had negotiated a contract with the cities to incrementally raise the existing fee of $1.50 per tax parcel by 5 cents each year until it reached $2.50 per parcel. However, when the county commissioners approved the measure, they struck the increase from the contract. The decision was unanimous — save for Autry, who had no vote in the matter.
During a follow-up interview, Autry said he negotiated for the increase because the fee has stayed the same for the last 15 years, but costs associated with collecting the taxes haven't. Just this year, he said, his department had to upgrade its software, which came with a roughly $2,000 price tag.
The original agreement also had a provision for the cities to pay for the purchase of new equipment. Ringgold had agreed to the provision, but Fort Oglethorpe formally objected. That provision was removed prior to the agreement going before the commissioners for a vote.
Still, Autry said, the program is a good thing for all involved parties, since the municipalities don't have to duplicate services the county provides, and the county can recoup some of its related expenses.
"The cities couldn't even hire one employee for what we charge them now," said Autry.
There was one increase in the new agreement that passed: the fee paid to the tax commissioner per tax bill. Autry's predecessor, Sandra Self, who retired in 2016, collected a fee of $1 per tax bill coming from the municipalities. Under the new agreement, Autry will receive $1.50 per tax bill.
According to Dale McCurdy with the county Board of Assessors, 1,421 real property tax bills and 315 personal property tax bills were collected from Ringgold in 2016, and 3,322 real property tax bills and 505 personal property tax bills were collected from Fort Oglethorpe. Real property tax bills refer to real estate parcels, while personal property bills refer to business, marine and personal property.
The tax commissioner is paid an annual salary by the county for collecting taxes, and the tax bill fee for the municipalities goes on top of that, Patty said. According to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, in 2016, Catoosa's tax commissioner made $95,829 annually.
If the agreement had been in effect in 2016, the tax commissioner would have received an additional roughly $8,300 for the collection of municipal taxes, versus the approximately $5,500 Self actually earned.
Dade County does not collect any municipal taxes. Walker County only collects from Fort Oglethorpe, with a stipulation that their agreement will not differ from Fort Oglethorpe's agreement with Catoosa County.