Politics & Government

Jackson County's property tax bills stuck in limbo after sheriff refuses to sign for them

Jackson County Sheriff, Denny Peyman. Photo Provided
Jackson County Sheriff, Denny Peyman. Photo Provided

Most Kentuckians received their property tax bills weeks ago, but Jackson County residents might not get theirs until next year.

Officials said county Sheriff Denny Peyman has refused to sign for receipt of the bills as required by law, which means they can't be sent to taxpayers.

County Clerk Donald "Duck" Moore said it's possible the bills won't go out until after a new sheriff takes over in early January.

That means potential tight finances for local agencies funded through property taxes. The agencies usually see an influx of money in October or November.

The county ambulance service faces payments totaling more than $60,000 in December and January for insurance, a loan and ambulances, and depends on tax collections, said director Craig Bowles. Those payments will be late if tax bills don't go out until January, Bowles said.

"It's gonna put us in a hardship for a little while," he said.

Thomas S. Crawford, a division director who has been with the state Department of Revenue nearly 30 years, said he could not recall another case where a sheriff would not sign for receipt of property tax bills.

Peyman did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Sheriffs are the primary collectors of property taxes under state law. After county clerks have tax bills prepared, the sheriff is supposed to sign a statement agreeing to collect them. The statement shows the number of bills and the total amount that could be collected, but signing the form does not obligate a sheriff to collect 100 percent of the taxes, Crawford said.

Peyman's refusal to sign for the tax bills is the latest in a string of disputes between Peyman and other local officials during his controversial term.

The fiscal court accused Peyman of malfeasance in a lawsuit claiming he had failed to repay much of a $600,000 loan the county had given his office in 2011 and 2012.

The court later forced Peyman to begin pooling his fee revenue with other offices — essentially taking control of his finances — and set up its own alternative county police force.

Early this year, Peyman had only one employee and a damaged Ford Mustang for a patrol car.

Peyman no longer answers emergency calls, said Bowles, who also heads the county 911 system. That assertion was echoed by Judge-Executive William O. Smith and Lynn Goforth, head of the county police force.

"I don't think he does anything," Smith said.

For his part, Peyman has argued that the fiscal court manipulated his budget into the red as a pretense to rein him in because of his effort to take on entrenched interests — something other officials deny.

Peyman was lauded in libertarian circles after he publicly declared in early 2013 that he would not enforce gun-control laws he considered unconstitutional. There was a debate at the time over tougher gun laws because a gunman had killed 20 students and six staff members at a Connecticut elementary school.

A year later, Peyman made a spectacle of arresting Smith on corruption charges during a fiscal court meeting, but a prosecutor soon dismissed the charges for lack of evidence.

Peyman, a Republican, lost by a wide margin in the May primary in his bid for a second term.

Just last week, the latest state audit of Peyman's office said his office had a deficit of more than $118,000 in 2011 and 2012 accounts.

Last year, Peyman's office collected 92.7 percent of the property taxes due in the county during his period to take payments, which ended last April 15, according to calculations by the Department of Revenue.

That was not the lowest collection rate among the state's 120 counties, but was well below the statewide average of 98.21 percent.

Moore said he has talked with Peyman about signing the bills, but as of midday Tuesday, Peyman hadn't.

The county's 7,000 to 8,000 tax bills went out on Nov. 1 each of the last two years and in early October before that, but it's not clear when they will be mailed this year, Moore said.

"Nobody knows what's going on or when it's going on," he said.

It would be too late at this point to mail the bills by Dec. 1 because the company that prints them needs two weeks to do the work, Moore said.

A lot of people in the county like the fact that the bills will be late because they might get their income tax refunds in time to pay local taxes before they're delinquent, Moore said, though the delayed payments could be a problem for schools and other services.

Crawford said the delayed delivery of tax bills in Jackson County will back up the timetable for paying them. Residents will still have the opportunity to receive a 2 percent discount by paying the tax early.

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