Tax collections by law firm report reflects success – mistakes or technology

By: Gayle Erwin
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Attorney Stephen Lee was present in Commissioners Court to present and reflect on the performance of his law firm that is in charge of collecting delinquent taxes for San Jacinto County. Mr. Lee proudly reflected the past three years of collections at 63 percent for 2012, 52 percent for 2013 and 89 percent for 2014. Lee expressed that the focus is on the taxes that become delinquent in July of each year. According to Lee the county is more likely to have the highest percentage of collection with the first year of delinquency as reflected in the 89 percent performance. The goal is always to collect 100 percent, but on average 10 percent will not be collected in most cases. The firm works diligently to get properties that go to public sale, back on the tax rolls as soon as the law allows. Most of the properties going to public sale are in the Cape Royale, Lake Run A Muck, and Waterwood areas, with of course others as well throughout the county.

The timely manner in which Mr. Lee was present proved not very timely for Mr. James Burke of Cape Royal on this particular day. Mr. Burke a new resident of San Jacinto county of less than a year was making a second Commissioners Court appearance in less than a month. Purchasing a property and closing on September 22 of 2014, Mr. Burke – 82 years of age - went to the tax office to pay past taxes on the purchased property with proceeds that he received at closing. According to Mr. Burke, “they could not tell me how much the taxes were owed on the property”. Tax statements are sent out in October of each year, which was just days after the September 22, 2014 closing. Time passed and Burke never received a tax notice, until……July of 2015 when Lee’s firm sent him a delinquent tax notice of suit in access of $2,000 with legal, penalty and interest fees. The amount all based on an $888 annual tax invoice. Mr. Burke came to Commissioners Court expressing his dissatisfaction in the actions of the timely manner in which the county transfers deeds, which then go to the appraisal district office and on to the tax collections office for invoicing. The lack of compatibility to promptly handle the transitions with promptness and accuracy seem to be a real problem. Mrs. Shirley Baker a resident of Evergreen appeared in Commissioners Court just a couple of months ago with similar issues in accuracy and promptness of offices working in a compatible efficient manner.

Mr. Burke was requesting a $114.21 refund due to the inability to timely invoice the correct property owner. Commissioner McCoppin came to the aide of Mr. Burke even though he is not in Precinct One. The court chose to handle the issue in executive session later in the morning. Mr. Lee – Tax Attorney for San Jacinto County attended the meeting – we are not privy to discussion of executive session meetings. Upon reconvening the approval for the refund was denied. Mr. Burke told the San Jacinto News-Times that he just wanted to pay his taxes that was owed at the time of closing on the property and get this settled.

Recently the commissioners passed on the purchasing of new software that would enable the appraisal office and tax office to be more compatible and efficient. Commissioner Mark Nettuno commented that “the timing is not good for the purchase with tax statements about to go out and employees having to learn new software in the mix”, indicating that the suggestion would be revisited possibly after the first of the year.

Tyler Technologies was on hand to give the performance presentation of technology that San Jacinto County presently possesses. The technology is being retired although his report indicated that employees have not used all the training hours that are provided. Change is already needed in software that has not been completely learned and satisfying the needs of the county. Timing appears to not be in favor for anyone at court including the county.

Somerset Shores is facing the time clock too with Commissioner Court to approve the final plat for the subdivision in Point Blank, Hwy 190 area of San Jacinto County. There have been undetermined details regarding the flow of drainage water in the flat grade of the property. Engineer Lynn Fairbanks was brought in to explain the new drawings reflecting a more current opinion of the property. Again time was not in Earline McLeod’s favor for a complete and final approval to be able to “rest at ease”. San Jacinto County Engineer Bass was not given the plat prior to the agenda item being presented. Mr. Bass told the court that he would need a couple of days to review for him to make a recommendation. Commissioners approved the plat, upon Mr. Bass’ approval. McLeod explained to the court that sales were pending and a delay of two weeks would not work in the developers favor. Commissioner Nettuno made sure that the court reflected that the approval was based on Mr. Bass’ recommendation.

The San Jacinto County Sheriff Department may be housing Indians and prisoners from the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe in the near future. Deputy Chief Joe Schultea presented a recommendation for the county to engage in the same styled contract that is presently in place with Montgomery County. San Jacinto County would house prisoners if and when the need arises.
The San Jacinto County Community Shelter continues to be a topic of priority, from legal action on the past contractor to the action of obtaining a contractor in which to take on and complete the project. Commissioners set September 2, at 9 a.m., for the consideration, discussion and possible vote to approve a contract for legal services to represent the interests of the county in litigation regarding construction of the shelter project, Ike Round 1 Grant.