ATLANTA -- Twelve acres in the Eastman industrial park escaped auction for some $186,198 in back taxes and penalties going back nearly a decade to a company linked to state Rep. Jimmy Pruett, as the taxman said a payment plan has been reached.
“I enter these agreements a lot. It helps in the long run,” Dodge County Tax Collector Rob Stanley told the county commission Monday night. His comments functioned as a public announcement that the parcel was off the list of about 30 others that had been scheduled for auction on the courthouse steps Tuesday.
Stanley said he’s made such agreements “hundreds” of times. “Nothing goes against our policy in my office,” he told the commissioners. It “saves you the cost of advertising, running these people down, going through the legal process and it helps the taxpayer in the long run,” he said.
County Attorney John Harrington could not be reached Tuesday for details of the payment plan.
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The bill comes from unpaid county property taxes from 2005 through 2011, a longer, older interval than most other properties on the sale list. For most of those years, it was owned by Pruett Holdings, in which Pruett, R-Eastman, was a partner. According to Dodge County Superior Court records, the land was transferred to Mosquito Creek Properties via a quit claim deed in 2009. Another Pruett company manages the parcel for Mosquito Creek, but the identity of its owners is not a matter of public record.
There is also another claimant on the property. The city of Eastman says about $35,000 is due them in back taxes for 2006 through 2011. They have scheduled the property for a sheriff’s sale next month. They hold both Mosquito Creek and Pruett Holdings responsible.
Errors within the county tax assessors office led to the current situation, Pruett has said. He could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. According to Dodge County Superior Court records, Pruett Holdings acquired the land via quit claim deed from the property-tax-exempt Dodge County-Eastman Development Authority in 2003.
The property was taken off the tax rolls when it was owned by the Development Authority, but it did not reappear when Pruett Holdings took over. It had reappeared on the tax roll by 2012, and taxes have been paid since.
The Dodge County Commission cannot forgive any principal, said chairman Dan McCranie, but it has been their policy to consider forgiveness of any interest and penalties accrued due to county error.
“The reason it was on our agenda was we thought their attorney was coming to kind of make his case on the interest and the penalties ... because of the mistake that was made on behalf of the county,” McCranie said.
The attorney, Ross Schell, was unable to make it to the commission meeting, nor could he be reached for comment Tuesday.
John Clements, a two-time Republican challenger to Pruett for the state House and ongoing critic of the unpaid tax situation, said, “everybody has a rough time, but why did it have to come down to the day before it was to be sold on the courthouse steps to make an agreement?”
The companies, he said, “should have been paying along like everyone else has to.”