Taxpayers: Jefferson County of little help

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 29, 1999

FAYETTE — Jefferson County property owners wanting to get a jump on paying taxes have had trouble in recent weeks. Despite a state law requiring counties to begin collecting Dec. 26, the Jefferson County tax office is not complying, according to people who have tried to pay.

&uot;Not only would they not let me pay my taxes,&uot; said David Gardner of Natchez, &uot;they would not tell me how much I owe.&uot;

Staff at the tax office said Wednesday they did not have the new tax rolls and could not collect taxes. They refused to comment, referring all questions to outgoing Tax Collector/ Assessor Dudley Guice Sr.

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Gardner said he wanted to pay his taxes in 1999 for income tax purposes. He described the matter as frustrating.

&uot;I just think it’s ridiculous,&uot; he said.

Guice could not be reached for comment Wednesday but recently called all complaints &uot;rumors.&uot;

&uot;I only speak the truth. I don’t approve of speculation,&uot; Guice said. &uot;All these rumors and speculation — I think it’s disgraceful.&uot;

Guice reportedly has not spent much time in the office since losing the Democratic primary to Samantha Jackson in August. Jackson received 2,165 votes to Guice’s 1,263. She ran unopposed in the general election.

Robert Megginson, director of property tax for the State Tax Commission said he has heard complaints about Guice since the election.

&uot;Dudley — I&160;just don’t know — he’s different,&uot; he said &uot;I’ve been here 20 years, and I’ve never seen this.&uot;

Since Dec. 26 and 27 were holidays, tax offices were to start collecting taxes on Tuesday Dec. 28.

Despite statements that the Jefferson County tax rolls were not complete, they have been finalized.

It took longer than usual this year because it was difficult to find Guice to do the paperwork, Megginson said.

&uot;They had no excuse for not collecting taxes (Tuesday),&uot;&160;Megginson said.

Why the tax rolls have been removed from the office is another mystery. Adams County Tax&160;Collector Vernona Sanders didn’t think she would ever remove the rolls.

&uot;I would think it would not be a good thing to do that,&uot; Sanders said. &uot;I can’t think of a reason I would.&uot;

The Jefferson County tax office is also refusing to take personal checks. Signs on the door of the office said only money orders, cash and certified checks would be accepted.

Despite the inconvenience this causes taxpayers, State Auditor Phil Bryant said Guice is not required to take checks. &uot;(This policy) is unusual but it has occurred in the past,&uot; Bryant said.

It usually happens when offices go through transitions like this one, Bryant said. &uot;When he leaves office he wants that to be the end,&uot; he said. &uot;He didn’t want to have to collect funds after he left office. He believes he’s doing a good job.&uot;

Bryant sent an auditor to the office last week and plans to send her back.

He also faxed a letter to Guice Tuesday telling him state law requires him to begin collecting this week.

He is not sure what action his office can take. &uot;The problem to this particular code section is there are no penalty provisions,&uot; Bryant said.

He is also talking to the Attorney General’s office about the matter.

Some property owners who know how much they owe are trying to pay their taxes anyway, Bryant said.

This makes things even more complicated. &uot;He may say he is collecting taxes,&uot; Bryant said.

Incoming Tax Assessor/Collector Samantha Jackson is a former employee of the tax office. She left this spring after announcing her candidacy. Jackson said she was having problems with Guice, and he tried to fire her. She will be sworn into office Friday.

Jackson is not worried about the problem and said she is trying to get a computerized backup of the rolls in case they are not given to her.

George County is having a similar problem, Megginson said. The outgoing tax assessor/collector has been difficult to locate since she lost the election.