Sales tax dip in Macon, Bibb surprises some retailers

If you bought something Wednesday in Bibb County, there’s a chance you paid a little too much.

The tax rate in the county fell from 7 cents to 6 cents on the dollar as of April 1, but a sampling of businesses across Macon showed that some of them were still charging the old rate.

Kamal Patel, owner of Capello’s New York Subs on Riverside Drive, was charging customers 7 cents per dollar until about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“I forgot,” admitted Patel, who said he had received notice of the change but had other matters on his mind and failed to change the register.

Sue Fouts of Macon paid 7 percent tax on her lunch at the Arby’s restaurant on Riverside. The Arby’s on Forsyth Road also was charging the old rate.

Fouts said the nickel overcharge wasn’t worth the trouble of seeking a refund.

“They wouldn’t be nice to me the next time I come in,” she said with a smile.

Retailers were notified of the change in a cover letter sent out recently with return packets for sales tax collections, said Charles Willey, Georgia Department of Revenue spokesman.

The bulletin shows Bibb County as the first county listed regarding tax changes effective April 1.

“Sometimes the retailers don’t get theirs. They have it set up to go to their accountant or whoever does their returns,” Willey said.

Of the 6 percent tax now charged in Bibb, 4 percent is kept by the state and 2 percent is returned to local governments.

Retailers who have overcharged should forward the collections to the state, Willey said.

“It will go back to the county. At no time is it the retailer’s money,” he said.

However, customers who notice a discrepancy can demand a refund, Willey said.

“You should bring that to the attention of the retailer, and hopefully they will make an adjustment and refund it on the spot.”

Customers also can contact the Revenue Department’s Macon regional office on North Avenue by calling 751-6055.

Willey said most overcharges are merely oversights and not retailers “doing anything illegal.”

“I can see them doing it today or maybe tomorrow,” he said. “If someone challenges them, they need to change it.”

Voters approved the 1-cent sales tax in 2005. The extra penny raised more than $105 million in the city and the county, said Deborah Martin, Bibb’s finance director. The money was used to retire city and county debt, including debt incurred while building the new county jail.

Excess proceeds from the tax allowed Bibb commissioners to roll back the millage rate by 2 mills this year, returning nearly $8 million in sales tax proceeds to taxpayers.

Wednesday’s tax change did not catch all retailers by surprise. For example, the reduction was programmed into cash registers at Best Buy at Eisenhower Crossing shopping center, Dillard’s at The Shoppes at River Crossing and the Burger King restaurant on Riverside Drive. The nearby Walthall’s Chevron also was charging 6 cents on the dollar Wednesday afternoon.

Some auto dealers have been gearing up for the tax break, planning to use it as a selling point.

“It helps sell a car. We’ve already sold one today,” Sutton Acura sales manager David Bullard said Wednesday.

“That 1 percent made up the difference in what they were wanting for their trade-in,” finance manager Steve Eddy said. “It helped close the deal.”

Leven Holliman, Butler Automotive’s general sales manager, said paying a penny less on the dollar would save buyers $200 on a $20,000 car.

“Two hundred dollars means a lot to folks these days,” he said.

Holliman said of the tax change: “It’s crazy that so few people know about it. I’m embarrassed to say I had not heard anything about it until I got to the office (Wednesday) morning and one of the ladies here was fixing it on our computer.”

Apparently, not everyone got the memo.

“After all the negatives in the media, we’d love to use it as a positive ... but we don’t know anything about it,” said Michael Hutchinson of Hutchinson Auto Mall.

Moore’s Furniture owner Mildred Moore also said she was unaware that the sales tax was supposed to decrease.

“Nobody’s let us know anything,” she said. “You’d think it might be written up in the paper.”

Staff writers Jennifer Burk and Linda Morris contributed to this story. To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.