Lonoke County’s volunteer tax is being brought under scrutiny by the state Joint Legislative Audit Committee, County Judge Doug Erwin said at the Quorum Court meeting Thursday. It is nothing that anyone is going to go to jail for, Erwin said of being called to account. But it is likely to at least bring about a change to how the taxes are collected, or even end them, he said in discussions.
The taxes called to question in the Audit Report are those 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.
The collection of the taxes is pointed out in the 2011 Lonoke County Audit Report as a conflict with Article 12, section 5, of the state Constitution.
The voluntary taxes are paid at the choice of individual taxpayers and are collected along with the annual county property taxes.
Two other voluntary taxes are collected but were not included in the audit note – for the county soil and water conservation district for beaver control, and the sheriff’s drug enforcement.
It appears that the crux of the matter is that the county is providing a service to the organizations for free, Erwin said. There is a cost in collecting and distributing the taxes that can be seen as being borne by the county, he said.
Possible options discussed include ending the taxes; collect a fee from each non-government agency for the costs in collection; enter into a contract with each agency to pay them for the service they provide; or increase the general property tax millage and pay the organizations outright.
County attorney Jeff Sykes said the option of creating contracts would likely cover most if not all eventualities in collecting the taxes. Each agency can be shown to be providing services that, under law, the county is allowed to provide, Sykes said.
Erwin said he is to appear before the committee at 1 p.m., Sept. 13. He called on all the justices of the peace to accompany him.