ALBANY, Ga. -- An official with a wireless tower analysis company told the Dougherty County Commission Monday it may be leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax money dangling from cell towers in the county because of incomplete and incorrect information being given by cellular service providers.
At the request of county Tax Assessor Board Chairman William Ashberry, Walt Woodard of Cell Tower Solutions offered an eye-opening account of tax revenue that may be slipping through the county's fingers due to under-reporting of equipment by telecommunications companies whose towers are located in the county.
"From the data we've gathered, (cell providers) may be under-reporting equipment by as much as 60 to 80 percent," Woodard told the board at its work session. "The current 3-G (third generation) equipment is being replaced with 4-G, and equipment values change dramatically.
"What our company does is give your personnel the resources to stay toe-to-toe with this industry and fix the numbers (of equipment value) going back so that you could forseeably capture back taxes going back three years."
The Cell Tower Solutions vice president said the modified numbers gleaned from an audit could mean from two to three times more tax revenue for the county. County staff indicated the 85 towers and their accompanying equipment located in Dougherty County have a listed value of $25 million, which Tax Director Denver Hooten said brings in $417,000 in annual tax revenue.
"Washington County in Georgia is a relatively small county, and the reported value (of cell towers and equipment) there was $2.3 million," Woodard said. "Our numbers upped the value to $7.6 million. And I can assure you the major telecom companies are making upgrades in Albany that have not been permitted.
"We're so sure of this, we guarantee you'll make money if you contract with us. If not, we back off our fees. At the end of the day, we want to see you putting the money you're owed into your schools and fire department and programs important to your taxpayers."
Ashberry recommended that the county finance the audit proposed by Cell Tower Solutions.
"When the law changed, I told the Board of Tax Assessors auditing all of the accounts in the county was a waste of time," he said. "I was wrong."
Also at the work session, county Procurement Manager/Clerk Jawahn Ware and Finance Director Martha Hendley updated the commission on a pilot plan to introduce purchasing cards in the county's administrative, Public Works and Facilities Management departments. The duo said using the cards could be a revenue enhancement source.
"The state has determined that the average cost to process a purchase order is in excess of $140," Hendley said. "The average cost to process a P-card is $40. In Fiscal Year 2012, we processed 7,878 purchase orders."
Ware said the county would have the opportunity to put restrictions in place that would limit the opportunity for fraud.
"Fortunately, we attended a symposium that allowed us to see the good, the bad and the ugly of this process," she said. "If we used this system, we would have the authority to restrict who could use the cards, where they could be used and the amount for which they could be used.
"Also -- and we were saving the best for last -- with Bank of America the county would be eligible for a multitiered rebate schedule that would bring money back to the county."
Ware said, based on purchase order spending over the last two fiscal years, the county would have received rebates of $141,250.42 and $155,023.89, respectively.
Also at the meeting, Suzanna McIntosh, co-chair of the Southwest Georgia Master Gardeners Committee, updated the commission on the committee's efforts to have the Butterfly Gardens at Radium Springs certified as a Monarchs Across Georgia garden.