The Sunflower County tax sale is going online. The County Board of Supervisors voted on Monday to approve a contract with Gov-Ease tax auction services to hold the county's tax sale using their online process.
According to County Tax Assessor-Collector Cynthia Chandler the date of the tax sale had already been extended to April 6, but because of the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent stay-at-home mandate by Governor Tate Reeves, the county will now have to use the online method to conduct a sale in May.
Attorney Johnny McWilliams said "We're in a strange circumstance in that our tax sale as we advertised it, that date's already passed and so we couldn't have the tax sale because of the virus emergency, but the governor extended the time for us to have it to May 4 and we are still not going to be able to have it in the normal way."
According to McWilliams, allowing Gov-Ease to conduct the tax sale will not incur a cost to the county. "The way the contract has been negotiated there won't be any cost to us. They'll be paid from over bids."
However, someone will have to pay for re-advertising the sale. It will have to be re-published in the local newspaper twice before the May 4 date, on April 23 and April 30.. McWilliams asked Chandler how she planned to handle the cost associated with publishing the tax sale, which can cost as much as $7,000, since it had already been advertised once and the fees were added to the tax bills at that time.
Chandler said she has already contacted someone at the State Auditor’s office in Jackson about the right way to handle it, but as of Monday morning had not received a response. Because of the virus outbreak the taxes were only published one of the two required times.
So, the question at hand is whether the county will be able to charge an additional printing fee to the tax bill or if the county will have to pay the cost.
Although this contract does not obligate the county beyond the May 4 tax sale, McWilliams said based on the discussions he has had with other county attorneys whose counties are using the service, this may be the way that Sunflower County needs to handle tax auctions in the future.
McWilliams said, "I think when you get into this you're probably going to find that it returns more money and it's going to be easier on the tax collector and on us, so this may be the way we do it from now on."
In other business,
Chandler queried the county leaders on how she should handle a prior request from Mayor Steve Rosenthal to conduct the tax sale for the city of Indianola. She explained that in times past the city clerk would come to the courthouse and conduct the tax sale after the county’s sale was complete, but since Indianola doesn't have a city clerk at the present time Rosenthal had asked her to handle the sale.
It was determined that Chandler could conduct a regular tax sale and would be acting independent of her duties as the county tax collector in that capacity; however, she is not authorized to conduct an online sale for the city or assist the city in conducting an online sale.
In light of the initial tax sale being canceled due to the virus, the city too will now have to establish its own contract with Gov-Ease in order to have them conduct its online sale.
During the meeting, McWilliams suggested that the Gov-Ease representatives present contact Rosenthal and try to establish a contract with the city. "I don't know what sort of limitations there are on a municipality as far as when they can hold one, normally you can only hold a tax sale on the first Monday in April or the last Monday in August that's the two dates," McWilliams said.
He stressed that it was his understanding that an entity could not just set a tax sale on any date that it wanted.
Additionally, McWilliams informed the county leaders that he had submitted a proposed interlocal agreement to Indianola's city attorney for review and if approved he would then present it to the county lawmakers. "I have prepared a contract that I think is fair to everybody," he said.
The agreement would allow the county tax assessor-collector to collect taxes for the City of Indianola also and all of the taxes would be paid in one place. He said the collaboration would save money for both the city and the county.
According to McWilliams, Indianola is the only municipality in the county that has responded in favor of having Chandler's office serve as its tax collector.
District 1 Supervisor Glenn Donald said he was the only one that had a problem with the proposal. His contention is that people will feel obligated to pay both sets of taxes at once without the benefit of a partial payment and therefore might not pay any. "I think you're going to restrict or hinder one or the other and end up might not getting some of them paid at all," he said.
Chandler said the acceptance of partial payment would be a decision that can only be made by the County Board of Supervisors and she explained the drawbacks associated with scheduling partial payments.
McWilliams said he considers the method to be a convenience for many. "We are one of the last counties that doesn't collect for all of the municipalities. It causes a ton of problems for banks, lending institutions, for lawyers," he said.
McWilliams asserted that when these entities have to check records they have to check in multiple places to see if taxes have been paid, but with the proposed agreement all of that information would be located in one place.
McWilliams reminded them that they were not voting on the issue at this time and that he was simply advising them that an agreement was being worked up for their approval at a later date.