WTOC Investigates: Candler Co. Admin resigns amid tax debate

WTOC Investigates: Candler Co. Admin resigns amid tax debate

CANDLER CO., GA (WTOC) - Candler County's Administrator has turned in his resignation to the Candler County Board of Commissioners.

This comes amid an ongoing battle between the City of Metter and Candler County about sharing the cost of services, including fire protection, road maintenance, and animal control.

WTOC has been investigating the debate between the city and the county, with which the administrator, Doug Eaves, has been cooperating. The city and county have now agreed to go to mediation because the city claims the county has been breaking state law for the last two decades, double-taxing city residents for shared services. When we sat down with Mr. Eaves, he told us it's not true.

The signs around town may say 'Everything is Better in Metter,' but it was just last week that we made a trip to Candler County to sit down with the mayor and the now-former county administrator, Doug Eaves, to talk about the ongoing debate. It's similar to Savannah and Chatham County arguing over how much each municipality should pay for a merged police department - except Candler County and Metter can't agree on a long list of shared services.

The mayor believes the county has been breaking Georgia law for nearly 20 years, violating the state's service delivery act.

"I don't know how they knew what they were doing," said Mayor, Edwin Boyd.

In 2017, the City of Metter hired a forensic accountant to review how Candler County was allocating the money they collected from property taxes.

"They are not showing where the money is coming from and where it's going to," Mayor Boyd said.

For most homeowners in Georgia, if you're a city resident, you pay school, city, and county taxes - shared services that come out of your city taxes. For unincorporated residents, it comes out of a special service district tax, which means county taxes remain separate to cover non-shared services. According to City of Metter officials, that has not been the case in Candler County.

"We don't think their budgets are showing that they are taking the money from their tax district. We don't think they had even created a separate tax district," the mayor said.

If there's no special services district in the county, shared services are potentially being pulled from the county tax base, which means city residents are now being double-taxed because the city pays shared services out of the city tax base.

"So, the city tax base is being taxed twice and is actually paying 70 percent of the total cost. That is a classic example of double taxation," Mayor Boyd said.

We sat down with Eaves last week, just days before his resignation.

"They believe they are paying double taxation, even though we've clearly demonstrated to them that there are no double taxations because we are not using county taxes to pay for our share of the services that benefit only the unincorporated areas or for jointly-funded services," Eaves said.

Eaves said they've been pulling the money for shared services from all of the revenue in the unincorporated portion of the county, like insurance premium tax and alcohol beverage tax.

Last month, Mayor Boyd sent the county a letter asking them to set up a special services tax district to pay for 60 percent of the majority of shared services because 60 percent of the population lives in the county and 40 percent live in the city. The mayor says city residents should be paying almost three mils less than residents of the unincorporated portion of the county - a potential savings of almost $100 a year on a tax bill for a city homeowner.

Monday, Eaves responded to the city saying, 'the county must respectfully decline. We look forward to the mediation process and resolving these issues.' Three days later, he announced his resignation after the Candler County Board of Commissioners met for two hours behind closed doors.

With or without Eaves, the debate will head to mediation and could potentially be left up to a judge to decide whether the county is correctly following the Service Delivery Act.

"It's up to the city officials, in our case, to protect our constituency which is what we are trying to do with this action, and like most things, it's about the money," the mayor said.

The Candler County Board of Commissioners will hold a special meeting Monday at 5 p.m. to discuss who will be named as the interim county administrator. The mediation process is expected to begin in the next couple of weeks.

We'll continue to follow this story and keep you updated.

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