Letcher County residents should start to receive their county tax bills sometime next week. The Letcher County Fiscal Court held a special meeting on Tuesday to complete the acceptance process of tax rates by special taxing districts to allow for bills to go out as soon as possible.
Letcher County Sheriff ’s Deputy LaShawna Frazier told the court that sheriff ’s department staff planned to work all night Tuesday to get bills printed in hopes they can all be mailed by Friday. The three districts that got their tax rates in late were Jenkins Independent Schools, Letcher County Schools, and the Letcher County Health Department.
The health department was delayed in getting approval of its rates from state officials, Jenkins Independent Schools passed its rate at its September board meeting, and Letcher County Schools had to hold hearings because it took the maximum rate allowed by the Revenue Cabinet of four percent. Letcher Judge/Executive Jim Ward told the court that Letcher County Schools had taken the higher rate and said if the board had taken the compensating rate it would have kept its revenues the same as they were last year, but had opted for the four-percent rate.
Magistrate Wayne Fleming said the board had known it was going to take the maximum tax rate allowed by the state and asked why it didn’t go ahead and schedule its board meetings earlier to allow tax bills to go out in a more timely manner. He said the delay would mean that county agencies will be late in getting tax revenues and will make it difficult for them to meet their budgets.
“Do you know why the school board was late?” asked Fleming. “They knew they were going to take the four percent rate. It looks like they would have done it earlier. It puts a hardship on people.”
In response to Fleming’s question, Sheriff Danny Webb said the county school board had to wait to get necessary information from the Revenue Cabinet before scheduling its hearings. Although the school board took the maximum rate allowed by the state, it still resulted in a lower tax rate than county residents paid last year due to increased property values. The board set its rates at 46.1 cents per $100 on real estate and tangible property and kept the motor vehicle and watercraft rate at 49.6 cents per $100. The rate last year for real estate and tangible property was 48.8 cents per $100. A three percent utility tax was also approved under KRS 160-613.
Jenkins Independent Schools set its rates on real estate and tangible property at 73.9 cents per $100 and kept the watercraft and motor vehicle rate at 69 cents per $100. Jenkins took the state recommended compensating rate, which kept revenues at the same rate as the previous year. Jenkins Schools’ tax rate also dropped, from 76.9 cents per $100 to 73.9 cents per $100. The Letcher County Board of Health set its rate at eight cents per $100 on real property, tangible property and motor vehicles and watercraft, the same as last year’s rate.
In other business, Whitesburg accountant Dennis Wayne Fleming presented the sheriff ’s tax settlement to the court. He told the court the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department collected $9,950,695 out of a total of all county taxes of $10,461,833. He said the collection rate is about 95 percent and of the total of taxes collected, the county received $1,142,844. He said the sheriff ’s department overpaid the county by $33 and overpaid all county agencies together by $594. The court voted unanimously to accept the settlement.
Magistrate Fleming asked County Attorney Jamie Hatton if there is a possibility of getting some kind of amnesty to protect Letcher County residents from having their delinquent tax bills sold, but Hatton said there is no way to avoid it once tax bills are placed for third-party purchase.
“Third-party purchases are set by (state) statute,” said Hatton. “That’s why we do so much PR stuff to keep people from getting into this. We try to get them to come in and set up payments.”
Fleming said that in light of the bad economy, people are getting behind on paying taxes and said add-ons like legal fees assessed by the third-party tax buyers are outrageous. He said a relatively small tax bill can run to thousands of dollars after legal fees and court costs are added.
“We’ve argued that in court,” said Hatton. “And we’ve advertised. Don’t let them buy your tax bills.”
Judge Ward agreed and said that Hatton has done everything in his power to keep Letcher County residents from having their delinquents tax bills sold and urged people who know they have delinquent tax bills to come in and set up a payment plan.
“I don’t turn anybody away,” said Hatton. “If they can just pay a little each month.”