Business tax questioned

By: 
Becky Killian, Staff Writer

The county council has been asked to consider whether the business personal property tax is worth the hassle due to problems with collection and distribution of the money it generates.

That was the question posed to the Washington County Council during its meeting on Monday, May 7.

Treasurer Shirley Batt and Deputy Auditor Michele Fleenor explained the problems with the tax, which Batt said the county adopted in 2016.

The tax isn’t always correctly assessed and the county has to hold the funds in an account while awaiting direction from the state on how to disburse it to the county’s tax-supported units.

“It’s caused us a bigger headache than it’s helped us,” Batt said.

Auditor Randall Bills agreed, saying the tax isn’t fair to many taxpayers and he hopes the council will abolish it.

Councilman David Hoar said he’s been through the process of a business personal property audit and he isn’t a fan of the tax. “It’s pretty much of a sham to tell you the truth,” he said.

Mark Clark, the council’s attorney, said the tax was established by the state and if the Department of Local Government Finance allows the taxing entity to decide which tax-supported units should receive the tax, then the county should pick which units will benefit from it.

Fleenor and Bills had asked the state about distributing the tax and were told it hasn’t been decided yet which taxing units should receive the money.

The council was told the December settlement totaled roughly $2,600 and there are at least 20 tax-funded entities in the county that could receive the money.

That money is set aside in an account and Hoar said he believes it’s best to leave the $2,600 alone until the state decides how to distribute it. Councilman Gerald Fleming Sr. agreed with Hoar.

The council voted to table the matter until the county receives further direction from the state about the distribution.

Councilman Ben Bowling asked when the council would have to make a decision on the matter so any changes would be in place by next year. Batt told him October. Bowling said that will give the council time to research the tax to determine if it’s worth the effort to collect it.

Council President Todd Ewen said he thinks the tax may be unfair since businesses with less than $20,000 of personal business property pay a flat $50. He believes all taxpayers should pay the same amount. Bowling responded that he believed the tax was set up that way as an incentive to small businesses. Batt agreed with Bowling.

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