County discovers $400K tax mistake

Published 12:04 am Saturday, May 16, 2015

NATCHEZ — Adams County corrected this year a mistake that rendered more than $400,000 in tax funds to the wrong government body.

The error had apparently gone unchecked multiple years, County Administrator Joe Murray said.

When taxes are collected and a resident claims homestead exemption, the deduction of the exemption is supposed to be borne equally by both Adams County and the Natchez-Adams School District.

Email newsletter signup

The state later provides counties and other governing bodies with a partial reimbursement of the homestead exemption funds.

What was happening instead of the correct rendering, however, was all of the exemption was being deducted from Adams County’s portion of the tax funds while the school district did not lose any tax funds.

When the rebate was rendered by the state, however, it was divided evenly between the two governing bodies even though the weight of the deduction had not been evenly distributed.

Murray said he discovered the discrepancy last August after the county budget — which always called for the correct amount of funds — had to be adjusted every year. Murray has been administrator since 2011.

“I knew my budget wasn’t coming out right,” Murray said. “I set a millage in the budget for each fund. When I was looking at ad valorem for real property in general fund, it kept coming up short.”

Murray said the error was made in coding in computer systems in the tax collector’s office when the computer system was installed.

Tax Collector Peter Burns said the system was in place before he took office in 2008.

“I was settling (the disbursements) as they told me to, with the outcome that was printed out every month,” he said. “Just as with any computer system, it is only as good as the input.”

Murray said he does not know why auditors didn’t catch the discrepancy before this year, but the school district gave the county board of supervisors its overpayment for this year in March. This year’s payment was $434,080.51.

“It is not going to produce any more money for us since it was already in the budget, but it is just going to keep us from losing that amount of money to the school district every year,” he said.

NASD Spokesman Steven Richardson said the school district was not affected by having to return the payment.

“That amount was never budgeted and it was never a part of the budget, so there was no loss or impact on the current year’s budget or the next year’s budget,” Richardson said. “It was simply returned once that error was discovered.”

Murray said the county wouldn’t be seeking resolution of payments for previous years.

“It is kind of robbing Peter to pay Paul if you are asking the school board to pay for past years, because they are drawing from the same tax base,” he said.