The Union Recorder

March 6, 2014

County begins revenue stream evaluations

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE —

Per request from the Baldwin County Commissioners, county management began a revenue stream analysis during Tuesday's work session.

County Manager Ralph McMullen presented background, current enforcement and future possibilities surrounding the county's occupation tax.

“This will generate discussions and try to get a plan of action for us to tackle these issues,” McMullen said Tuesday.

The occupation tax applies to a person engaged in any business, trade, profession or occupation having one or more employees or agents who exert substantial efforts within the unincorporated part of the county for the purpose of soliciting business or serving customers that own real or personal property generating income.

The Georgia General Assembly passed a law effective in 1995 that did away with the term “business license.”

The law mandated three criteria for business classification and mandated that local governments choose one of the three to determine the occupation tax levied.

Governments use either number of employees, profitability ratios or gross receipts in combination with profitability ratios. 

Baldwin County figures the occupation tax based on employee numbers.

The lowest yearly tax rung is $35 with the maximum for businesses over 50 employees at $500.

Baldwin County's occupation tax is interrelated to the alcoholic beverage ordinance.

Class A and B alcohol license holders are currently exempt from paying occupation tax.

“That doesn't happen anywhere other than Baldwin County,” McMullen said. “These individuals get by without paying for one of their licenses.”

The previous Baldwin County Commissioners decided not to amend the alcohol ordinance to remove the exemption clause in April 2012. 

Occupation tax schedule increases were also discussed during public hearing.

“At that time, no board action was taken,” the county manager said.

For comparison, the City of Milledgeville uses gross receipts to calculate occupation taxes. The city's fees are much higher than the county.

McMullen mentioned Tuesday that the code enforcement office doesn't “aggressively” go after individuals that don't renew the occupation license.

“A lot of your mom and pop businesses have closed, but still there are a number of lawn care companies and sometimes even subcontractors that do work without the occupation tax,” he said.

The county manager said the code office would purge the current occupation tax list to verify who is still in business ensuring that all businesses pay the proper fees for operation.

County Finance Director Dawn Hudson said the governmental entity receives between $40,000 and $50,000 per year in occupation tax.

The fiscal year 2013 total yield hovered around $30,000.

Hudson said most of the businesses are located in the city.

“Under the uniform act if they have a city license they don't have to have a county license,” McMullen said.

County staff will take 30 days to develop a plan for better enforcement and possible occupation tax changes.

Hudson liked the old proposal brought up in 2012 that would take away the alcohol license only exemption.

“Get rid of the concession that business have to pay one or the other,” she said. “It doesn't affect a lot of people.”

Commission Chairman Sammy Hall, District 3, expressed reservations Tuesday about changing fees.

“I don't know how much money is on the table now that we aren't collecting,” Hall said. “We need to do a better job of collecting what we've got.”

With only two code enforcement employees, McMullen said, “we are looking to overhaul that department.”

Commissioner Tommy French, District 2, mentioned a cost analysis associated with better enforcement.

Emily Davis, District 1 Commissioner, doesn't want an occupation policy revision to be “so rigid that you have people in jail for all that stuff.”

“You have to enforce policies and procedures, but keep it as simple as possible without giving people a criminal record,” Davis said.

McMullen remembered back 25 years to his old code enforcement county position.

“The board of commissioners at that time said that we do not want to make criminals out of our citizens,” he said. “We will go down that same line.”

Hudson told commissioners Tuesday that a code enforcement privatization proposal was on the table.

Both the City of Milledgeville and Baldwin County officials listened to a November 2013 presentation from SAFEbuilt, the largest contract provider of building department services in Georgia.

SAFEbuilt provides Full Service Building Department Programs as an extension of current governmental staff for over 20 jurisdictions throughout Georgia and supplemental services to many additional communities. 

“That may be another option to look at a business that has a good reputation to help communities figure out their code enforcement issues and make suggestions on how to change things for the better,” Hudson said. 

County staff has the SAFEbuilt proposal and will include recommendations in next month's occupation tax follow-up report.