$743,000 in taxes not collected amid litigation

By Justin Boron

Clayton County didn't collect any part of a tax bill amounting to more than $740,000 because of ongoing litigation even though the law requires that at least a portion of the taxes be collected in any dispute situation, county tax documents show.

Clayton County taxes on a piece of property owned by the city of Atlanta at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport were contested in a lawsuit, in which attorneys for Atlanta argued the property was eligible for a tax exemption.

A Superior Court judge ruled it did not qualify for the exemption, and the ruling was upheld in the state Court of Appeals.

While the litigation worked its course in 2003 and 2004, taxes were not paid on a building owned by Atlanta and leased to the U.S. Postal Service. The taxes are still delinquent, according to records at the tax commissioner's office.

In 2003, the city of Atlanta owed $365,938, and in 2004, it owed $378,568, tax records show. The records also say the taxes are under appeal.

But in any tax dispute, the protester must pay 85 percent of the taxes upon appeal. If the case goes to Superior Court, the undisputed tax amount, usually the previous year's tax, must be paid, said County Attorney Don Comer.

Terry Baskin, the county tax commissioner, could not say why the appropriate portions of the taxes were not collected, given that he wasn't in office at the time.

But he did say the taxes would be collected.

"We need to rectify what has and what's not been collected," he said.

Clayton County has fought to make sure the tax revenue from several pieces of property near the airport would not be lost.

The post office building case is evident of the sometimes tense relationship between the city of Atlanta, which operates the airport, and the county, in which the airport exists.

The city protests taxes on hundreds of its parcels each year, Baskin said.

County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell has emphasized protecting the county's assets around the airport.

While he could not be reached to comment on the uncollected taxes because he is out of town, Bell gave the following statement in a news release.

"I plan to have our legal department pursue this case until the people of Clayton County get what is rightfully theirs," he said.

In unrelated legislation, the county also recently lost a chunk of revenue in a bill recently signed by the governor that limits the amount of fuel sales tax it can collect from Delta Air Lines.