Officials deny sales tax records inquiry

ATLANTA -- State Department of Revenue officials have denied a request by The Albany Herald seeking the identity of a local manufacturer that is set to receive nearly $2 million in miscollected sales taxes, saying Georgia law is "extremely restrictive" concerning tax records.

In response to a Nov. 9 request for information made under Georgia's Open Records Law, Revenue officials wrote that The Herald's request for information pertaining to a "local manufacturer whose identity has yet to be determined," was so broad in scope as to be vague and unduly burdensome.

Local government officials were aghast earlier this month when the state of Georgia inexplicably held back $614,000 from the Dougherty County School System, $475,000 from the Dougherty County Commission and more than $800,000 from the city of Albany's coffers, or roughly half of all the county's sales tax dollars for the month.

In an e-mail to city and county officials, Revenue officials said that the state had withheld that money to redistribute to an Albany manufacturer that had wrongly been paying sales taxes on manufacturing equipment between 1999 and 2007. School board officials were given no reason for nearly 50 percent of their monthly sales tax revenues being withheld, Finance Director Robert Lloyd said.

In addition to the identity of the manufacturer, The Herald was also seeking information about how the mistake occurred after hearing discrepancies from two different sources with information about the incident.

One person said it appeared that a sales tax audit -- a rare, periodic check, was responsible for finding the problem -- while another said the company had filed a complaint with the Department of Revenue after an internal audit revealed the company had been mispaying the money.

In follow-up correspondence with the Department of Revenue through its public affairs office, officials did say that the department is responsible for handling all of the sales tax dollars statewide after they are remitted to the department by businesses when they file monthly or quarterly returns and is then given out to the proper authorities by the Revenue Department's Local Government Services Division.