ATLANTA — The Fulton County Tax Commissioner has pocketed tens of thousands of dollars over the years through fees he collects when tax debts are sold to private collection agencies or are paid off, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Sunday.
The fees have added between $22,000 and $31,000 annually to Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand’s salary. Ferdinand started out earning nearly $77,500 in 1997, and earned $383,000 last year.
County attorneys have said the arrangement is legal. Hugh Wood, a partner with a law firm that handles real estate litigation, says the county tax commissioner being paid a 50-cent fee for his office transferring tax debts to private agencies creates an obvious conflict of interest.
“This incentivizes him to pass your debt to a third-party collector,” Wood said. “The tax commissioner now has two masters. Either he is serving himself, or he is serving the taxpayer.”
Ferdinand told the newspaper his motive is to make sure taxes are paid as quickly as possible. He said a law justifying the arrangement has been on the books since at least 1933 — when these types of fees were used to pay most tax commissioners’ salaries.
State Rep. Lynne Rile (R-Johns Creek) said accepting the payments while earning an annual salary because a law exists justifying the payments isn’t an ethically responsible thing to do.
“I think it’s a terrible practice,” Commissioner Robb Pitts told the newspaper. “A base salary ought to be sufficient.”
Ferdinand collects the lien fees on top of a six-figure salary and a $1 per-parcel fee he collects from Atlanta, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs for handling city tax bills.
The newspaper reports Ferdinand cited the old state law when he started asking for the money in 2010, and asked for back payments on liens that had been paid off since 2002.
The County Attorney’s office ruled that Ferdinand had a right to the money, but would only retroactively pay him for liens that were paid off since July 2007.
The director of the Georgia Association of Tax Officials told the newspaper he was unaware of any other tax commissioner in the state accepting these types of payments.