Lee tax standoff continues

LEESBURG, Ga. -- The Lee County Commission voted Tuesday night to have County Attorney Jimmy Skipper meet with Tax Commissioner Susan Smith's attorney to try and settle differences over the collection of past-due garbage fees before petitioning Superior Court for a writ of mandamus to force Smith to collect the fees through her office.

The standoff between the county and the tax commissioner came to a head when the commission voted to have county garbage collection fees added to ad valorem tax bills at the end of the year to try and stem the tide of uncollected garbage fees, a tide that has left county coffers hundreds of thousands of dollars short. Smith refused to comply with the order, saying Tuesday she was "elected to collect taxes, not garbage fees."

"You have two choices here," Skipper told commissioners at their May business session Tuesday night. "I have talked with Ms. Smith's attorney (Jerome Adams of Douglas), and he's asked for additional information. We've sent that to him, and he said he'd like to meet and talk about the matter. I can do that, or I can go ahead and file suit in Superior Court.

"If you decide to have me talk with him, I think we can determine pretty quickly if they plan to comply. But we don't need to wait another two weeks to get an answer. We are under some time constraints here."

Commissioner Rick Muggridge asked if the county could petition for the writ and still meet with Smith's attorney, but Skipper indicated that would hinder possible settlement talks.

Commissioner Dennis Roland suggested moving forward with the court action.

"I think (Smith) has made it clear she doesn't intend to do this," Roland said. "I think we should move forward with the suit."

Skipper said the county would save money if an agreement could be reached outside court.

"If we settle this, it will save you money," he said. "Keep in mind you'll be paying your attorney and hers in this matter."

Muggridge made a motion that the commission have Skipper meet with Adams and either come to an agreement by May 31 or move forward with the suit. That action passed.

"Her lawyer will know the law," Chairman Ed Duffy said. "Surely he'll see that the law is on our side."

Also at the meeting, the commission voted to approve an alcohol license for Brijesh Patel at his 1572 Highway 19 South establishment Baps 4ever; OK'd a conditional zoning variance request by Michael Yerby on Winnstead Drive; and denied a similar request by Clayton Homes on U.S. Highway 82.

Commissioners also gave final approval for Construction CGM of Colquitt, the low bidder on the county's library/conference center project, approved change orders on the library totaling $3,200, which will be financed by outside funding, and OK'd a quit claim deed on previously abandoned White Pond Road for a prospective new owner of land adjacent to the road.