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System reviewing tax fee

By Greg Gelpi

While Clayton County is charging higher fees to the Clayton County school system, both sides are collecting information before taking any further action on the higher fee.

In July, the previous Clayton County Board of Commissioners raised the fee charged to the the school system for collecting its taxes from 1.6 percent to 2.5 percent, a change that could result in the school system paying in excess of an additional $1 million to the county in fees.

The county has been collecting the higher rate for a month. Since the commission approved the higher tax, both the county commission and Clayton County Board of Education had new elected officials take office.

"I'm now making a complete inquiry into it," Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell said. "I've asked my staff, I've asked my attorneys to look into it. It will stand until such time as I get to review it."

In the meantime, the school system is making a record of payments of the additional fees, said system Chief Financial Officer Theresa McDugald, who plans to make a presentation to the school board about the fee during a special budget meeting at 5:30 p.m. March 24.

McDugald, who has been on the job for a week, met with Clayton County Tax Commissioner Terry Baskin last week to discuss tax collection.

"We really only briefly talked on that issue," she said.

Still settling into her office, McDugald said that the numbers haven't been crunched as of yet to determine how much this will impact the school system.

"I'm really not in any position to give any specifics at this point," she said. "We'll be fine for fiscal year 2005 because this came into play after a majority of our money had been collected."

School spokesman Charles White said that the school board has been made "fully aware" of the situation.

"It's now in the hands of the school board" to decide how the school system will proceed, White said.

Clayton County schools Superintendent Barbara Pulliam had suggested that the fee increase was a means of pressuring the school system into rejoining the county in a partnership to construct an aquatic center.

The county and school system parted ways on the joint venture earlier in the summer and later settled their differences and again partnered on the project.

When the tax increase was passed, school board attorney Gary Sams said that the move was illegal.

"They're trying to repeal the '83 law by this action," Sams had said.

The county had charged the school system 2.5 percent, but the school system took the county to court in 1983 and settled on 1.6 percent, where it remained until earlier this month.

The county and school system agreed to the 1.6 percent before the court ruled, then county attorney Don Comer said at the time in the county's defense.

According to the law that was passed in 1983, "the tax commissioner in Clayton County shall remit all education funds collected by him to the board of education of Clayton County, except for 1.60 percent of those funds which he is to remit to the governing authority of Clayton County to reimburse the county for the expenses incurred in collecting school taxes."

Sams had said that he would wait until the county begins collecting the increased fee, then would take action to challenge it.