Owners of Cookeville Boat Dock apparently haven't paid all their DeKalb County personal property taxes for several years and members of the county commission have taken action to do something about it.
During Monday night's meeting, Second District Commissioner Jack Barton made a motion to "give this priority number one in our unpaid taxes that our (tax) attorney is going after," said Barton.
The commission approved the motion.
Members of the commission also raised a concern about Short Mountain Village, a housing complex on Mountain Street, and decided to look into their status on payment of taxes owed but county officials learned Tuesday morning that Short Mountain Village is now paid up and current.
From 1998 through the 2010 tax year, owners of Cookeville Boat Dock have been named as defendants in Chancery Court lawsuits filed against delinquent taxpayers. The amount they owe through 2010 in delinquent taxes comes to $137,144.47 with additional penalties assessed each month. The Trustee's office also shows that Cookeville Boat Dock owes $8,368 for the 2011 tax year and $7,593 for 2012.
Each year the attorney for the owners of Cookeville Boat Dock files an answer to the lawsuit, claiming that the county can't "collect a tax on real estate" on federal property since the U.S. government pays in lieu of taxes to the state for the use and benefit of DeKalb County. That constitutes, in essence, double taxation, according to their answer.
But county officials say Cookeville Boat Dock, like other marinas on the lake, conducts business on leased land from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is assessed by the county only for personal property and improvements.
Typically, if someone has an issue about their taxes, they must first pay them and then file a protest or challenge. But except for a year or two when they apparently paid some of their taxes under protest, Cookeville Boat Dock has gone without paying all their taxes for up to sixteen years, according to county officials.
Former Chancellor Vernon Neal recused himself from hearing the case in 2002 citing a personal conflict. Former Circuit Court Judge John Turnbull was designated and appointed to hear the case to its conclusion. After Turnbull retired from the bench, the case was passed on to Judge Amy Hollars but it still has not been settled in court.
In prepared remarks to the county commission Monday night, Barton said Cookeville Boat Dock should pay up " Throughout the process (developing a pay raise plan for county employees) we have struggled to make sure we as a county can afford this (now) and the ensuing years that this plan is in place. Having said that, I want to address something I brought up in the summer that was unanimously approved by the budget committee, but there has been no apparent action on. This matter will help address the monies needed to handle the raises or other projects as we see fit," said Barton.
"This would be the unpaid property and personal property taxes by Cookeville Boat Dock since somewhere in the beginning of the last decade. We have had many tax attorneys since 2001 or so, but we have filed a case to go after the unpaid taxes, somewhere in the early part of the last decade and for whatever reason, the case keeps getting postponed in Chancery Court either at the request of us but most often at the request of the Cookeville Boat Dock's attorney. There have been many issues I am sure as to why this has been postponed so many times and that was due to the long time sickness and subsequent death of Reese Nash, one member of the family that is the owner of the Cookeville Boat Dock. However, at some point business is business and we must force this issue that all of us must and do deal with yearly," he said.
"But my understanding of the taxes, we levy them for their improvements on the federal property they lease from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Business Personal Property Tax. These are taxes that all businesses are subject to and that all other boat docks pay. I want to make a motion that we give this priority number one in our unpaid taxes that our attorney is going after. Since we filed the case already, I understand legally we can go after all the taxes to the beginning and are not limited by how far back we can go. Not counting penalties or interest that may be due, I believe this amount to be a very significant amount between what has already been turned over to the Chancery Court Clerk and still has not been turned over. Enforcement of taxes serves as a deterrent to others trying to do this and in this area we as a county have failed. If further resources are needed to address this, I would add to my motion that you apprise the budget committee of what is needed to make it a priority and resolve the issue, so that we can collect what is long overdue us," said Barton.