Washington to make delinquent tax commission payments to county

The city owes the county $109,000 after it stopped paying the required commission fees in 2004

May 2, 2014

Washington officials are working to “mend fences” with county tax collectors after not paying a required commission to them for the collection of delinquent property taxes for the past decade.

City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to begin the process of restarting the 5 percent commission payments to the county’s Tax Claim Bureau. The payments were suspended in 2004.

The city quit paying the commission to the county then because it hired its own agency, Portnoff Law Associates, to collect delinquent taxes from property owners. The city has accumulated $109,000 in back payments, fees and interest due to the county, tax records show, so Mayor Brenda Davis said the time is now to “mend fences” and fix the problems.

“We’re at a point where we need to pay it,” Davis said. “It’s a good-faith effort on our part to take care of what we need to do to pay them. This is a step in the right direction.”

The city hopes to negotiate a smaller payment than the $109,000 owed by requesting that the county waive interest and other fees, although the county’s chief tax collector says the payment must be made in full. Debbie Bardella, the head of the county’s Tax Revenue Office, said they won’t negotiate a lower payment but would allow the city to fulfill its financial obligations in three payments over the next year.

“There is no waiving interest or penalties,” Bardella said. “When you don’t pay, that’s what’s applied.”

She said Washington is the only municipality in the county to not pay the required percentage. City officials previously argued that they should not be required to pay the fee because they use an outside agency for collection, instead of the county.

City council is expected to vote on a second reading of the ordinance in June to restart payments to the county. Bardella said she’s pleased with the development after the disagreement on payments spanned multiple mayors and numerous council members.

“This has been an ongoing situation for years, so we’re happy to have some sort of resolution,” Bardella said.

Davis said in the future, the city will add an additional 5 percent fee to delinquent tax collection charges that will be funneled from Portnoff to the county.

Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and Patch.com. He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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