Action on approving the county millage ordinance stalled at the Nov. 15 Quorum Court meeting on the issue of collection of a voluntary tax for agencies that are not government offices. Though the tax has been collected for a number of years, it has come under the scrutiny of the Legislative Joint Audit Committee as an unauthorized collection — regardless of being voluntary.
County Judge Doug Erwin and Justices of the Peace Mike Dolan, Claude Irvin, H.L. Lang, Tim Lemons, Jannette Minton, Sonny Moery, Larry Odom, Bill Ryker, Adam Sims and Barry Weathers attended the meeting. Joe Farrer, Roger Lynch and Alexis Malham were absent.
The taxes in question have been collected for the Lonoke County Council on Aging, Lonoke County Exceptional School, Lonoke County Fair Association, Lonoke County Humane Society, Lonoke County Cares, Lonoke County Open Arms Shelter, Wade Knox Children’s Advocacy Center, A Woman’s Place Pregnancy Resource Center and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Lonoke County.
Voluntary taxes collected for the sheriff’s drug control measures and the Soil and Water Conservation District for beaver control are not at issue because those are government agencies.
The question for the Justices of the Peace is how much to collect, and how to distribute the revenue.
In September, Erwin appeared before the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to explain the collection of the taxes. He was told the issue is collecting a tax, voluntary or not, for non-profit organizations.
Deputy legislative auditor June Barron told Erwin that the county cannot collect a tax for a private organization.
However, Barron suggested that a county voluntary tax could continue, so long as it is not designated for a particular corporate or non-profit organization. Revenue from such a tax could be managed as a general fund or however the county chose to account for it, she said.
The county would then make contracts with particular agencies for their services, as long as those services are among those the county is allowed to provide. The agencies would be paid through the non-designated voluntary tax.
At the Aug. 30 quorum court meeting, county attorney Jeff Sykes had suggested such a manner of collecting and dispersing a voluntary tax — though he recommended the county simply end the practice.
At the Nov. 15 Quorum Court meeting, Erwin said he had not received information from the non-profit organizations to determine the millage to levy. He said he had sent out requests to describe the service provided the county, and the monetary cost, but none of the organizations had responded.
The Justices of the Peace voted to hold the millage ordinance until the organizations could provide the information.
The millage ordinance must be approved in November, Erwin said.
A special quorum court meeting has been called for Nov. 29.
A voluntary tax could be collected and then distributed to the non-profits according to contracts between the organizations and the county, Sykes said.
The contracts would be for services that the county is allowed to provide by the state Constitution, he said.
The list of services is comprehensive and most, if not all, the organizations would be able to show they serve the county for a particular service, Sykes said.