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Councilwoman Kaye Jones targets abatement debts owed to City of Clarksville
Posted By Kaye Jones On Friday, September 14, 2012 @ 12:00 pm In News | No Comments
Investigation by City Councilwoman Kaye Jones results in savings to tax payers and new procedures being put in place. City to Audit Building and Codes Department
Clarksville, TN – During the budget hearing for the 2012 city budget, City Councilwoman Kaye Jones questioned the policy of the city Building and Codes Department and the Finance Department showing uncollected debts as income in the city budget.
These uncollected debts some of which have been owed for a very long time, seemed unintentionally, to inflate the income to off set expenditures which made the budget appear better than it was.
The uncollected debts were created after the Codes Department receives a complaint in reference to things like grass and weeds that need cutting or property with trash on it. The Building and Codes Department will notify the property owner of the complaint and give them so many days to correct the issue. If the problem is not corrected then the Building and Codes Department will send a crew out to cut the grass and or clean the lot and charge the property owner.
The problem, City Councilwoman Kaye Jones discovered, was there was no follow through process to collect these debts.
Based on this information, City Councilwoman Jones requested from the City Finance Department a print out of all uncollected debts owed to the city for these types of debts. Director of Finance Ben Griffith provided a document that was over 120 pages document containing names, address and amounts owed to the city.
First of all, City Councilwoman Jones was appalled the city was owed this much and there was no enforcement process in place to collect the money. Second of all, City Councilwoman Jones was further applauded at the size of this list and the names of the businesses and individuals that appeared on this list.
According to Sec.4-612-Creation of lien of the City Code; “collection, payment in court, costs for abatement of weeds bills shall be placed upon the tax rolls of the city as a lien and shall be added to property tax bills to be collected at the same time and in the same manner as property taxes are collected.”
At this point, City Councilwoman Jones contacted the City Attorney and requested a meeting be set up with the Legal Department, Building and Codes Department, County Attorney and City Finance Department to discuss this list and the collection process that was not working. The City Attorney, Lance Baker, set up a meeting with all who would or should be involved in the process.
On the day of the meeting, City Attorney Lance Baker arrived and told everyone there that there may not be a need for the meeting because the Mayor had called for an audit of the Building and Codes Department. At this point, Councilwoman Jones told Mr. Baker she wanted to go ahead and review why she had called for this meeting since everyone was present.
After reviewing the findings of my investigation, the City Finance Department admitted to dropping the ball on the collection of these debts to offset the tax payer’s expenses, and other departments suggested that they should have been involved in the collections process to make it efficient. We discussed what steps could be taken immediately to start a collections process. Due to the fact that no one could verify the property owner had ever been sent a legal notice of the debt owed to the city, we would first send out notices to everyone on the list. Next, we all agreed that a collection process must be developed and executed to protect the tax payers from the burden of these debts.
As a result of the first step of just sending out the legal notice of debt to the city, the City has already collected over $51,000.00. Councilwoman Jones would expect as the Finance Department develops a procedure up to and including filing liens on the property for these debts, we will see the collection of these debts improve for the city.
While I really don’t like the idea of a lien being filed against a property for cutting the grass and/or cleaning a property, Councilwoman Jones doesn’t think it should be the responsibility of the citizens of Clarksville to bare this expense. It should also be noted that if someone is indigent, there are funds available in the city to assist them with this expense.
I would like to thank the Finance Department and the City Attorney’s office for their prompt action to this issue and their continued work on this program.
This is just a good example of how the City Council Members should ask questions of everything that happens in our city to ensure we are good stewards of the taxpayer’s dollars and we always represent the citizens in everything we do. This is also a good example of when a City Council Member questions something in the city and has the ability to follow up with department heads and obtain the proper documentation from the department heads we can continue to protect and represent the Citizens of Clarksville.
Editor’s Note: This article contains the view points of Councilwoman Kaye Jones and may not represent the views of the rest of the City Council, the City of Clarksville or ClarksvilleOnline.
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