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Same firm’s lawyers represent commission, school board

By Sheryl Marsh
smarsh@decaturdaily.com · 340-2437

The Morgan County Commission and Board of Education each has an attorney from the same law firm, which could be a problem with back taxes that the county owes to schools.

Attorney Bill Shinn represents the commission and lawyer Bob Harris is the school board’s attorney. Both attorneys are in Harris, Caddell and Shanks law firm.

Reportedly, the County Commission owes the school board $656,000 minus fees to other entities.

The money is a compilation of casual sales tax the license commissioner’s office began collecting in 1989. Residents pay a casual tax when registering any vehicle purchased from an individual or company that’s not a licensed dealer in the state.

Shinn said conflict is a possibility but there is a solution.

“If there was a dispute, we would withdraw from representing either side and both sides would have to get other counsel,” Shinn said. “We would try to resolve it without a dispute, if we can. There could be a conflict of interest if those parties get crosswise with each other.”

A charge on one of Shinn’s bills to the commission dated Sept. 11, 2006, shows that he and Harris conferred about “sales tax issues.” That conference cost $300.

Shinn says he does not remember exactly what the conversation was about, but he’s certain it was not about the casual tax, but about another county sales tax.

The bill shows that Shinn was conferring with county officials about the casual tax a month later. On Oct. 2, 2006, he gave advice to the license commissioner regarding collection of the 2 percent sales tax on casual sales.

Another issue that arose last year was the 7.3 mill tax levy that county officials accidentally let expire.

Records show that Shinn held two telephone conferences with county officials about the levy. That cost $450.

Rodger Spillers, chief financial officer of county schools, said the school board’s bill increased because of the tax levy issue.

Residents voted to renew the levy in a special election on Jan. 16.

Spillers said the school board paid the law firm $18,586.67 so far this year and a lot of the money was for Harris’ work on the tax levy situation.

“The biggest portion of this year’s (bill) has been the work they did on trying to figure out what they were going to do about the tax that lapsed,” said Spillers.

Commission office records show that Shinn made $79,910 from July 1, 2006, to date.

County Commission Chairman John Glasscock and County Administrator Syble Atkins said last week that they learned through state auditors that the tax should go to the school board. For 18 years, the commission office put the money in the county’s General Fund and used it.

Deputy License Commissioner Patsy Dougherty, however, said she questioned the tax last year. Shinn’s bills show that he talked with Dougherty, Atkins and Sales Tax Director Ed Sims on Nov. 9, 2006. The meeting cost $640.

Dougherty said she re-routed the money to the sales tax office last fall.

Sims said he started disbursing the money in October 2006. He said the first 10 percent goes to the commission office; then, the town where the purchaser lives gets its share. Volunteer fire departments get 10 percent and county schools get the remainder.

Jimmy Dobbs, president of the school board, said last week that he and other officials plan to seek the money.

In the meantime, Glasscock told the commission that he would reserve $656,000 in the Road and Bridge Fund for the tax liability to the schools and other entities.

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